. December 3, is the annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities, established by the United Nations in 1992 to “promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life”. It is also a stark reminder of how far we in India need to go in meeting the needs of the disabled.
About a billion people internationally live with a disability, with 80 per cent of these being residents of the developing world. In 2007, the UN passed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This was a landmark step toward treating disabled persons as full members of society, rather than objects of pity or charity — or, as was shamefully the norm for much of our past, fear and ridicule.
India is a state party to the convention, and the World Bank estimates that there may be well over 40 million Indians living with disabilities. Most Indians regard them with disdain or at best indifference to their plight. Provisions exist in law, but getting the authorities anywhere in India to implement them is another story altogether. The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act was passed in 2016 but our country is still largely devoid of ramps on its footpaths or government buildings. The best that can be said is that the passage of the law may have helped shift the treatment of disabled persons in society towards rights-focused thinking. But acting is a different matter.
Indians with disabilities are far more likely to suffer from poor social and economic development. Shockingly, 45 per cent of this population is illiterate, making it difficult for them to build better, more fulfilled lives. This is compounded by the community’s lack of political representation: Despite the vast population of people with disabilities in India, in our seven decades of independence we have had just four parliamentarians and six state assembly members who suffer from visible disabilities. This is hardly a surprise when considering that, unfortunately, several political leaders have even used discriminatory language and derogatory comments to talk about people with disabilities