Ayaan and the Case of 'Disable' Justice

Work done by selfless child rights activists is appreciable

ON August 24th last year, a landmark order was passed by the court of Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities New Delhi. The commission which works under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment gave justice to Ayaan Zaffar, a 12 -year-old child from Srinagar who is visually impaired and suffers from loco-motor disability as well. Ayaan who is enrolled as a student in Special Education Need (SEN) department of Delhi Public School (DPS) Srinagar was hit by a school bus in DPS Srinagar campus in June 2019.

Ayaan’s parents and some social workers working for the rights of children in Kashmir had been raising this issue for a while now. The school authorities were reluctant to accept the fact that Ayaan was hit by a school bus and secondly the management failed to take care of his medical expenses as well.

The court of Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities New Delhi recommended that school authorities take care of the expenses that were incurred on his treatment post accident. In addition to it, the commission recommended that the victim should be given a full scholarship. The school authorities were also directed that on no account should the child be dismissed from the school or harassed by the respondents. However, DPS Srinagar management didn't implement the orders of the commission for more than a year.

NCPCR’s directions to DC Srinagar

When Ayaan was not provided the compensation by Delhi Public School, some social activists, who were already assisting the boy's family in this legal battle for more than 3 years brought this issue into the notice of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) last year in October. After several hearings, the commission issued an order on August 24th 2021, asking Deputy Commissioner Srinagar to implement the order of the court of Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities.

Following this, DPS Srinagar on the intervention of DC Srinagar, finally agreed to implement the order. The school management handed over a compensation amount cheque of Rs 4 lakhs before the Additional Deputy Commissioner, Srinagar recently and also made a commitment to provide scholarship to Ayaan till he passes class XII.

Background of the Case

Ayaan was hit by one of the school buses in DPS campus on June 19th 2019. First, he was taken to Ahmad hospital Nowgam, Srinagar, where according to parents, the cause of injury was not revealed. In view of the serious injury which had damaged his lower limbs, the visually impaired boy was taken to Bones & Joints Hospital Barzulla Srinagar. From there, he was further referred to Sher e Kashmir Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) in view of serious injury to his right lower limb which had damaged the nerves and veins plus muscles having been bruised severely.

As Ayaan could not recover, his parents decided to take him to Kokila Behan Hospital in Mumbai in the month of October 2019. On account of the injury being very severe, the hospital management advised his parents to take Ayaan to Tamil Nadu for a specialized treatment but doctors in southern metropolitan city also failed to treat him. Finally, in February 2020, after spending a lot of money, time and energy, his parents came back to Srinagar.

Activists Who Assisted Family

After feeling demoralized and dejected, Ayaan’s parents, Dr. Zaffar and Shayesta, came in contact with three Srinagar based child rights activists - Dr Chintanjeet Kour, Zaheer Jan and Muddasir Shaban. They tried to approach the management of DPS Srinagar with the request to give compensation to the victim, in vain.

All the three were thus forced to file a complaint before the Court of Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities in June 2020 and the matter was disposed of within 3 months.

Responding back to the Commission, the school management said that they were providing scholarships to the Ayaan. The case was listed several times and finally on 24th August 2020, the Commission issued a detailed order directing school management to reimburse all the money which was spent on Ayaan’s treatment plus the scholarship. But the school authorities didn’t implement the order for more than a year.

Court Order

The Disability Commission heard the case through video conferencing on several occasions. Advocate Waseem Aslam appeared on behalf of the victim along with Ayaan's parents. The court of chief commissioner observed: “The court finds merit in the contention of the complainant that the school has full responsibility to ensure the safety and security of all the students and doubly so for those who are having physical disability , in the premises of school. Under no circumstances the school can give any excuse to evade such responsibility and is accountable for any accident caused due to an external source leading to such an injury to a 100% visually-impaired student.

The court recommended reimbursement of all medical expenses undertaken by the parents of Ayaan for his treatment. In addition to it a full scholarship was also recommended in favour of the child until he continues to be in the school. The Court also directed that on no account the child should be dismissed from the school or harassed.

In-spite of lapse of more than 1 year, the order of the Court of Disabilities Commission was not implemented. It was then one of the activists Zaheer Jan approached the Union Minister of Women and Child Development Simriti Irani whose office through an official communication No: CW-I-13/2/2017-CW-I(27953) Dated: 23.10.2020 directed the Director General Women and Child Development J&K Govt to intervene.

In addition to it a copy was sent to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights as well. Zaheer Jan and his colleagues Dr. Chintanjeet Kour and Mudassir Shaban also approached the Child Rights Commission. The commission sent a communication to District Magistrate Srinagar asking him to act. The magistrate on October 10, 2020 directed the Principal DPS Srinagar to implement the orders passed by the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities. A compliance report was sought by the DC office within a week's time, but the school management didn’t act at all until the National Child Rights Commission had to intervene.

Conclusion

Experts believe that persons with disabilities continue to be ignored by society. Many of them live in isolation, segregation and poverty. The children who have disabilities are reportedly the worst victims. In a place like Kashmir, many say, the disables face barriers that prevent them from enjoying their educational and other rights.

Today, the world population is over 7 billion people and more than one billion people, or approximately 15 per cent of the world’s population, live with some form of disability.

In Jammu & Kashmir, there’re 2,04,834 male disabled persons (among which 1,03,730 literate) and 1,56,319 female disabled persons (among which 47,239 literate) and 27,939 disabled children. There are 8207 disabled male graduates and 3584 female disabled graduate in J&K.

Notably, J&K has got highest blind prevalence ratio in India. One reason being that inter-relation marriages are preferred, which in medical science has proved a reason for more possibility of disability. Other factors could be lack of proper dieting during pregnancy, no proper vaccination for newly born children and scarcity of medical facilities in the hilly region. Experts say that a large number of disabilities are preventable, including those arising from medical issues during birth, maternal conditions, malnutrition as well as accidents and injuries. But due to lack of proper healthcare, aids and appliances, poorly trained health workers in rehabilitation centers, have failed to react proactively to disabilities.

Every year, the International Day of Disabled Persons, as proclaimed in 1992 by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 47/3, is observed with an aim 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. The theme for this year disability day is “Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world.”

However, despite calling disability a “human issue”, the governance structure of JK has so far failed to create a decent infrastructure for persons with disabilities. There are only 15 disability care institutes—each with a capacity of 40 people—in the erstwhile state, according to this research by Department of Economics, Annamalai University, India. Only 0.05% of the state’s disabled population has access to education, while others are out of the range of basic necessities such as education.

Although various acts and schemes have been laid down with an aim to empower the disabled, their enforcement face many challenges. And even though many disabled persons are capable of productive work but they have far lower employment rates than the general population. The situation is even worse in the private sector.

But as Ayaan’s case show, the disparity blatantly exists in the education system which is not inclusive. Recently, a Kashmiri disabled student studying in one reputed private school in the valley was asked to arrange his own writer for his exams. The student was clueless to find a writer for himself and so his father faced a difficult situation. Similarly most of the students in schools, colleges and universities are not in support to provide a writer to such students which results in demotivating them. These educational institutions don’t follow the actual guidelines and nobody takes note of it. Again, here hardly any institution or a government department follows the Supreme Court ruling for such employees who are care-takers for any disable child.

While the whole system seems discriminatory, many in Kashmir are still wondering about the reputed educational institution’s treatment towards Ayaan. Apart from denying medical expenses of a specially-abled child who was a victim of their negligence, the campus administration failed to respect the orders of the court of Chief Commissioner of Persons with Disabilities.

It finally took the tireless work by three child rights activists who guided Ayaan’s parents to fight this legal battle. There were some unseen catalysts behind this campaign as well, namely Advocate Roma Bhagat, Bharti Ali, Poonam Dinshaw, Ruby Singh, Pankaj Muru, Akil Paul and Jasmeet Arora.

Despite this collective act, experts believe that JK has still a long way to come in fulfilling its duty towards people with disabilities.

But with the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 now operational in J&K—post Article 370 abrogation—all eyes are now on Raj Bhawan and NGOs for creating more awareness about this legislation “so that people suffering from various disabilities can get befitted as per the provisions of this law”.

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Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow and Chairman Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. Feedback [email protected]

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