Political Representation of Persons with Disabilities

By Mohammad Auyoob Mir

RECENTLY, the tragic news of the death of a Person with Disability in Kashmir due to the laxity of a medical board was in the news. The video of the sister of the 10th class student who passed away, in which she was sharing the ordeal of apathy, was widely shared and invited a lot of empathy from people.

However, are euphemisms the way to show true solidarity? Can our individual condemnations cure what is actually systemic and structural? Certainly not. What is required is institutional measures to ensure that Persons with Disability don’t have to resign their fate to the sensibilities of those they encounter.

The marginalised sections are ubiquitous in world societies. It is the feature of human history which has found its way through a historical process of marginalisation. Marginalisation pushed certain sections of society to the fringes of the social order. It is a systemic way of deprivation and discrimination. Such social groups have limited access to opportunities, restricted freedom of choice, and their inherent personal capabilities remain unexplored. Marginalisation is no new phenomenon and marginality no new topic. It was first introduced to the epistemic cannon by Robert E. Park in his essay titled, ‘Human Migration and the Marginal Man’, published in 1924. Marginality is all around us. Women, for example, have historically been denied various rights the world over. The marginalisation of black people in America, Jews in Germany and Dalits in India – to mention a few – are a part of our historical memory. The discussion and debate over marginality hasn’t ceased yet because it is with us even today. The marginalised have, from time to time, protested against the social inequalities and organised movement(s) to get the justice delivered to them. Most of these movement(s) succeeded considerably to secure certain rights and privileges for the marginalised.

Among other marginalities, disability is the one least discussed. Persons with disabilities, no doubt, have been given certain concessions and relaxation in different walks of life, but they still depend on the so called “normal” people to represent them politically. They are far from taking part in decision-making. There are many examples of persons with disabilities in the positions of power and authority in Europe, the US and Canada and in some of the Arab and African countries, which is a proof that ‘disability’ cannot keep a person from decision-making and policy-making processes.

The WHO defines ‘disabilities’ as, “an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions.” “An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations. Disability is thus not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives”

India is home to a myriad of marginalities. Most of them find mention in ongoing public discourses, but disability as a marginality is side-lined because it is thought to be insignificant. Though postcolonial India saw remarkable improvement in the quality of life of the disabled, but this is, arguably, not enough. The latest National Statistical Office (NSO) survey suggests that persons with any kind of disability constitute 2.2 per cent of India’s population, but they still remain politically underrepresented. In response to official apathy and state neglect, India’s disabled population – along with various NGOs and civil rights groups – raised their voice to demand equal rights and fair treatment, but these demands were not met, at least not immediately.

Persons with disabilities share no other commonality, and that 70 per cent of their population lives in rural India, are basic reasons for their under representation in political culture. They are considered as dependent and incapable of living by themselves, that is why unemployment in this section is much higher than otherwise “normal” people.

India is a signatory to the CRPD in (30th May 2007). “Article 326 of the ‘Constitution of India’ provides for the ‘Right to be Elected’ under the ‘Right to Adult Suffrage’”. However, the Indian government has not introduced any provisions till yet to ensure that the disabled community has equal representation in the parliament, state assemblies and panchayats in the country.

Political representation of PwD in India is conspicuously absent. Indian parliament has reserved seats for SC, ST, and other minority communities, but there is no such provision for the PwD, which is apparently discriminatory in nature. As Hanna Pitkin writes, “To represent means to present again”, thus political representation is the activity of making the voices of the marginalised heard. Even political parties in India are not considering giving an opportunity for disabled community on “social responsibility basis” but are placing candidates on the basis of their popularity.

In the present day India, many Acts, laws and Rules aim to produce a barrier-free environment for all classes of the society.  Unfortunately, the disabled community in the country still comes across huge challenges, ranging from social barriers to environmental barriers. These barriers have limited the participation of the PwDs in many disciplines, especially in our political system. Separate election for the representation of disabled community also is not possible in our country because of scattered population of disabled people, hence the GOI should introduce a provision to reserve a nominated seat for disabled which may help in representing community in a better way. Representation of the PwDs in elected political bodies can bring about a beneficial change to the disabled community and help them shape better and effective inclusive policies for themselves.

The world is progressing towards inclusive development of all communities, but unfortunately, the expected levels of inclusiveness for the disabled community has not been achieved yet. Ample representation of the disabled in the Parliament, State assemblies and Panchayats will be a very big step towards reaching inclusive development and will encourage disabled community in rural areas to develop required infrastructure for themselves to empower them. A quota for the PwDs for contesting in the Lok Sabha, state elections and in elections at local level will be a major progressive step in our journey towards inclusiveness.

The disabled community in the country is gradually making it to the forefront in almost all aspects of life. Inclusive policies go a long way in enabling the disabled community and providing them with equal opportunities to make use of their rights, attain their strengths and contribute to a nation’s growth.

The author is a Visually Impaired student with a B.A (Honors) in Political Science from Aligarh Muslim University and can be reached at [email protected]

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