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New education policy roundly slammed for promoting inequality, discrimination

The disabled community is outraged over the draft of the new education policy prepared by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. The policy, which has been put together by two committees is apparently the outcome of many meetings. To what purpose? That seems to be the unanimous question from the disability sector.

"Profoundly regressive" and "overwhelmingly undemocratic". These are the words being used to describe the draft of the New Education Policy prepared by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. The language as well as the measures have been slammed as discriminatory towards children with disabilities.

For starters, the draft is not available in an accessible, inclusive format. It does not exist in text, Braille or audio versions and can be accessed as a PDF document only, which puts it out of reach of people with different disabilities.

In a press release, the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) criticised the inaccessibility of the document calling it a "barometer to gauge the impact, within government circles, of the much tom-tomed 'Accessible India' campaign. It also asks for details of the organisations working for disabled people that were taken into confidence while drafting the policy.

While the opening message ..claims that the draft was prepared after "unprecedented, collaborative, multi-pronged, multi-stakeholder, bottom-up people-centric, inclusive, participatory consultation process, the appendix attached.. does not list any organisation working among the disabled which was involved in the process. Even the nodal ministry, the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, the National Trust - are all glaring omissions..Even the Rehabilitation Council of India, which is mandated "to regulate and monitor services given to persons with disability, to standardise syllabi and to maintain a Central Rehabilitation Register of all qualified professionals and personnel working in the field of Rehabilitation and Special Education does not figure in the list. - Murali Dharan Vishwanath, General Secretary, National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled

The draft has no mention of the provisions of the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) or the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 . A shocking lapse given that this is the latest law that is meant to safeguard the rights of people with disabilities in India. What the document does mention is the obsolete Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995.

Various disability rights activists took to social media to express their shock and disgust at this blatant apathy. "Interesting the Draft National Education Policy refers to a 'Persons with Disabilities Act 2005'. Why is proof reading so out of fashion? tweeted Nipun Malhotra. ‏

The draft makes no mention of disabled students from financially weaker backgrounds or those who do not have a school close to their homes. Instead it proposed to merge smaller schools into bigger complexes. There are no practical measures suggested to make disabled children part of the mainstream, instead it promotes segregation and inequality.

Shailja Sharma, parent to a child with disability and a lawyer, calls the draft a failure at multiple levels.

"I am disappointed that it does not talk about schooling at all levels equally for disabled students although there are some valid points made about early intervention and about improving the standards of anganwadis, primary health care. It is important to start implementing the rights of disabled children at the grassroots level to make their basis strong" Sharma is concerned about the implied segregation. "Instead of focusing on special schools, the policy should focus on making mainstream accessible for children with disabilities and disorders..

Issues like mental health of students, pressure of academics, and the rising suicides have not even been looked at in depth. Calling it a violation of the fundamental Right to Education for all, including disabled people, Vishwanath said the draft is a failure on all the three parameters that the current government likes to talk about so much - "sab ka saath, sab ka vikas and sab ka vishwas".

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