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Getting Ahead

A stronger voice

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RIGHT DIRECTION PWDs now have legal rights, just like everyone else

A draft bill aims to ensure that PWDs get their rightful place in society.

A draft bill, released in September, by the ministry of social justice and empowerment, speaks up for the rights of PWDs as integral members of society. It has been largely hailed as a progressive legislation aligned to the spirit of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, of which India is a signatory. This convention acknowledges PWDs as active members of society who have rights and the power to exercise them.

Javed Abidi, disability rights activist, welcomes the draft's provision to grant PWDs full legal capacity. PWDs can make their own financial decisions, take bank loans, inherit or own property. Earlier those deemed incapacitated were often at the mercy of a plenary guardianship wherein someone substituted for them before law. This has been reduced to limited guardianship with PWDs having a say. They also have a say regarding their reproductive choices - for instance they cannot be subject to any medical procedure which could result in infertility without their free and informed consent.

The draft bill also carves out a rightful share by way of reservations for PWDs when it comes to education, housing and jobs or allocation of agricultural land. It clearly spells out penal provisions for defaulters. For instance, penalties are prescribed not only for assault or sexual harassment but even mistreatment of PWDs by denying them food or water - in this case the offender could be sentenced to a three month imprisonment. Accessibility is vital for PWDs and the bill requires that all public buildings should be disabled friendly within five years of the Act coming into force.

Mithu Alur, founder of the Spastics Society of India, is pleased with the draft but points out that it is rhetoric on paper unless operationalised at the earliest. "We need to come together and empower PWDs about their rights and how to exercise them, " she adds.

Even as urban India continues to grow, the vast majority of the population (which would include the PWD populace) hails from the hinterlands. It is felt that the draft bill may not best serve the rural PWDs. For instance, a grievance often has to be filed by a PWD at a far away district headquarter. The litmus test of this progressive bill, when enacted, will hinge on its effective implementation.

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