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People with disabilities & leprosy can now contest Tamil Nadu civic body elections

Our #StoryOfTheWeek is on the introduction of a new bill in the Tamil Nadu Assembly that gives people with disabilities and leprosy the right to participate in civic body elections.

A bill long overdue that the government of Tamil Nadu has finally stepped us to bring into force. Now people with disabilities and leprosy are eligible to contest civic elections in the state, something the community has been demanding for years now.

Under the Chennai City Municipal Corporation Act and the Tamil Nadu District Municipalities Act., people with disabilities were barred from contesting civic polls and only recently was the matter taken up seriously by cabinet minister S P Velumani, who handles local administration. Barely hours after he tabled this bill in the Assembly, it was approved.

It all began when T Kavitha, a hard of hearing person in Chennai was denied permission to contest the civic body elections due to her disability. Those who have been fighting for this are happy but say this is just the first step towards inclusion in the political arena.

TMN Deepak, Founder, 3 December Movement says the community must now fight for reservation.

The highlight of this new bill is that now deaf people can contest in elections. Earlier, there were laws that prevented them from contesting. Though I am glad that we set the ball rolling, there is much to do. Some clauses of the Tamil Nadu Act did now allow people with disabilities to contest, and it is the same across India. These were British laws introduced in years 1919 and 1920. Tabling of this new bill is something that had to be done years before. I agree that this is a significant step but we still have a long way to go. What the community wants is 5% for disabled people to contest in all elections. Once that is implemented, we have enough reasons to cheer. - TMN Deepak, Founder, 3 December Movement.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is clear that equal political rights must be guaranteed to people from the disabled community. Till date, neither the states nor the Centre have worked towards this, leaving the community marginalised and side-lined. Discrimination towards people with disabilities continues and perhaps greater political participation by the community is the only way to change this.

"It is a great welcome move. Any decisions made about persons with disabilities must include us, and most decisions for people including marginalised groups are made by politicians. So there need to be political representation from persons with disabilities", says Smitha Sadasivam, disability rights activist from Tamil Nadu.

Murli Dharan, General Secretary, National Platform for Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) feels the Tamil Nadu government has taken a progressive step. "This is indeed a great step towards inclusion and a welcome move. I believe participation of people with disabilities and leprosy in politics is not only about contesting in elections. They can play an important role in other governing matters as well. We have many people with disabilities who are actively taking part in politics". Introduction of such bills are vital and needs to be followed by other states, says disability rights advocate Nipun Malhotra.

"This has been pending for long. But finally, it happened. I will give a thumbs up for anything that promotes inclusion. Participation of people with disabilities and leprosy in political matters is definitely going to be great", says Nipun.

The Bill is here, now begins the task of ensuring that the provisions are implemented so people with disabilities and leprosy are well ad truly a force in politics.

ALSO READ: Tamil Nadu disability groups give a push to greater sensitization of people in positions of authority

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