Disabled people in Jammu & Kashmir struggle for basic services even as COVID-19 cases rise
With over 400 cases, Jammu and Kashmir has recently reported a huge jump in the number of COVID-19 cases. Forget essential services, even basic information about safety measures is not getting through to disabled people.
It’s going to be a month since the Centre issued disability inclusive guidelines to ensure the safety of disabled people through the COVID-19 pandemic. Progress on this front has been patchy. Some states have taken proactive steps while others are lagging.
In one state, however, things stand as they are and that’s Jammu and Kashmir. With 407 cases, Jammu and Kashmir has recently reported a big jump in COVID-19 cases. Yet, no support system for disabled people is in place. No helpline numbers, no door to door delivery of essential goods and services and no system for issuing passes for caregivers.
Even more alarming is that basic awareness information about ways to keep oneself safe is not reaching people during this lockdown.
The police have set up a general helpline for everyone, but the government is yet to do anything for the disabled community specifically. Phone lines are down in remote areas so people cannot call for help either. With Internet services patchy or non-existent in large parts, people are not even getting basic information on how to protect themselves from COVID-19. Vital information about norms of social distancing and hygiene is being missed out on. – Javed Ahmed Tak, Social Worker
People with high support needs struggle for basics
The plight of disabled people with high support needs is even worse, says Zaheer Jan, Founder, Save The Destitute Foundation. “Thousands of disabled people are suffering for lack of diapers, urine bags, catheters and medicines. Local organisations are not of much help either”, alleges Zaheer. Children with psychiatric disorders are especially affected, adds Javed. “They are not able to buy or go to the hospital to get their regular dosage of medicines”.
This is a matter of concern as cases are rising in Jammu and Kashmir. On Thursday, 27 new cases were reported, all from Kashmir division. In such a scenario, access to information is crucial yet disabled people are completely disconnected from what’s happening. “People who are deaf and hard of hearing have no access to information in sign language, so they have no idea about the precautions to take”, says Javed.
E-passes for caregivers is a struggle as authorities are not processing them. “I had applied for e-passes but was tossed around between the Divisional Commissioner and the Secretary for Social Welfare”, says Javed. “This means I am unable to get an e-pass as a disabled person or NGO leader”.
Awareness info on safety measures missing
Some local organisations are trying their best to answer distress calls from the disabled community. This week STDF distributed 50 grocery kits to people of different disability types. “Grocery kits for one month have been distributed”, says Zaheer. “We have included two sanitary pads in the packets for women to ensure they don’t have to use clothes or any other means that may cause infections”.
STDF is being aided by New Delhi-based organisation HAQ – Child Rights Centre. “We reached out to HAQ founder Bharti Ali for help and they sent us relevant materials for 100 families”, says Zaheer. “We hope to try and help more people in the coming days with their support”.
The larger neglect is evident from the fact that three years after the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 was enacted, Jammu and Kashmir are yet to notify the Act. “Section 101 of RPWD Act gives state governments the power to make rules for implementing the Act’s provisions”, points out Akeel Ahmad Ushmani, Founder, Disability Rights Advocacy Group.
The fallout of this apathy is complete marginalisation of the disabled community in Jammu and Kashmir, which as per Census 2011 stands at nearly four lakh people.
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