Bihar government’s move to offer cash incentives to marry disabled persons sparks off debate
The government of Bihar has announced that a sum of one lakh rupees will be given to a non-disabled person marrying a person with disability has sparked off a controversy. The government terms this a social welfare measure, but many disability rights activists say this will promote stereotypes about disability and lead to exploitation. That’s the focus on #StoryOfTheWeek.
“One lakh to those who marry a divyang”.
This headline screaming across many newspapers has roused anger and outrage among many disability rights groups and advocates. This is with reference to the government of Bihar’s recent move declaring that one lakh rupees would be given to a non-disabled person marrying a person with disability.
Confirming the news Dr Shivaji Kumar, Bihar’s Disability Commissioner told NewzHook that this was a part of a range of welfare measures announced by the state government. “One lakh rupees will be given as an incentive to anyone who marries a person with disability. In case its marriage between two disabled people, then the amount will be doubled”. To prevent any possibility of exploitation, the money will be frozen. “The money will be deposited in the bank account of the disabled person and cannot be touched for a period of three years”.
Similar cash incentives offered by other states
Incidentally Bihar is not the only state to offer such monetary incentives. Many other states like Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha among others offer them as well although the amounts vary.
Exploitation is just one aspect many disability rights advocates are concerned about.
“This will surely lead to exploitation”, says Arman Ali, Executive Director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) and asks why the assistance cannot be need-based. “In Assam, for instance, the government offers money to buy gold to economically backward sections, regardless of disability”. He is also concerned that this would leave women with disabilities more vulnerable. “This is not a relationship based on love or trust. The scheme must stop being promoted in this way. It also feels like a statement that is being sent out that marriage will cure the stigma around disability”.
Incentives may exploitation
Noted disability rights advocate Dr Satendra Singh shares similar concerns and says, “Money won’t change mindsets. Rather it perpetuates more crime against woman with disabilities. Rather than promoting such age old ablestic policies, the state commissioners for persons with disabilities should be advocating for its abolition”.
However, there are others who advocate a more nuanced position and urge that this be regarded as a social security measure.
Giving money towards marriage of a disabled person may look like state- sponsored dowry but I have seen many grassroots workers welcoming it” says Shampa Sengupta, National Platform for the Rights of Disabled (NPRD), who is researching this issue and says it needs to be seen from the perspective of disabled women from poor families.
During our research we realised that for large numbers of disabled women in India, even in 2020, the only way to access sexuality rights is to get married. Society still thinks disabled people are not ‘fit for marriage’. Otherwise why do we have to include a clause on rights to marriage and family life in the recent Rights to Persons with Disabilities Act 2016? – Shampa Sengupta, National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled
Vital social protection
Aruna Devi is from the Society for the Rights of All Women with Disabilities, one of the groups in Tamil Nadu which petitioned the state government to amend the policy on monetary incentives.
“Earlier under the TN’s Marriage Assistance Allowance Scheme, the incentive was for marriages between disabled-non-disabled persons. We petitioned the state government to extend it to marriages where both partners are disabled, and this was accepted”. The move, she insists, should be seen as a social security measure.
What needs to be put in place, says Smitha Sadasivan, Disability Rights Alliance of India, is a structure to prevent misuse.
“I think appropriate social protection measures need to be provided to promote safe and dignified living in the community for people with disabilities including women, whether married or not. This may include equal marriage allowance and maternity allowance in line with other vulnerable groups, housing and employment opportunities. There needs to be checks and balances if a person with disability is getting married to a person without disability”.
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