Accessibility November 18, 2020
NHRC intervention sought under RPWD Act for imprisoned tribal activist Stan Swamy
The National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled has appealed to the National Human Rights Commission to urgently intervene to provide jailed tribal activist Father Stan Swamy with reasonable accommodations under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016.
A sipper and a straw. That is all that ailing tribal activist Father Stan Swamy has asked for. Yet the National investigation Agency (NIA) has sought a good 20 days to decide whether these can be granted to him in prison.
Father Swamy, 83 years old, is a Jesuit priest and a senior tribal rights’ activist based in Jharkhand. He was arrested for terrorism-related offences in October this year and is currently imprisoned at Taloja Jail in Maharashtra.
Father Swamy has Parkinson’s disease and has almost entirely lost his hearing ability. Parkinson’s, as the NPRD letter points out, is a progressive nervous system disorder that impacts movement. His lawyer moved an application before a special court that he be allowed to use a straw and sipper in prison to drink water, as he cannot hold a glass.
Father Swamy has Parkinson’s, partial hearing loss
The National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) has petitioned the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) seeking its intervention to provide reasonable accommodations to Father Swamy as Parkinson’s is recognised as disabling under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016.
It is obligatory that Stan Swamy be provided with requisite age and disability appropriate accommodations, assistive aids including straws and sippers as also human care assistance as required. We beseech you to ensure compliance of rights of prisoners with disabilities as also providing them with reasonable accommodations as mandated by international conventions. – Muralidharan Vishwanath, General Secretary, National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled
The NPRD had earlier sought the NHRC’s intervention in the matter of Professor G.N Saibaba from Delhi University, who is a person with 90% disability. That request was forwarded to the Centre. Prof Saibaba continues to be in prison at Nagpur Central Jail.
Fundamental rights violated
At the time of his arrest, Father Swamy was carrying a bag with a straw and sipper, but this was seized by the NIA. “The NIA refused to hand them back and jail authorities refuse to provide him these inexpensive but essential assistive items”, says the NPRD letter. “He has trouble eating because of tremors. He is unable to take a bath, bring water or wash clothes. Father Stan also has serious hearing problem and needs hearing aid for both ears”.
Over the years, the letter points out, the Supreme Court has in several cases clearly held that prisoners also have certain fundamental rights including those stated above, which in this case are being violated.
The letter asks the NHRC to ensure that Father Swamy is given the requisite age and disability appropriate accommodations, assistive aids like straws and sippers as well as assistance as required. It also asks the NHRC to send a team to Taloja Jail to inspect the condition and take stock of the accessibility of prison premises.
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