It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but in India, the physically challenged have not been integrated into mainstream society. And marriage is the one institution where the stigma of being differently-abled is starkly highlighted. Now, the state government has decided to rectify this and is planning to launch a scheme where anyone marrying a disabled person will be awarded Rs 50,000. Social justice minister Shivajirao Moghe said the idea was to encourage marriages between the “disabled and the able-bodied’’. Any person who marries a person with 40% or above disability—one who is certified as disabled—will be eligible. The government is of the opinion that the reward scheme will promote greater integration of physically challenged people into mainstream society, and will be implemented across Maharashtra. According to the 2001 census, there were 15.69 lakh persons with disabilities (PWDs) in the state. No data was available on unmarried PWDs.
While the plan has been welcomed in some quarters, many NGOs and activists have expressed their doubts over whether a monetary incentive is the way to go. Naysayers include Raju Waghmare, who is employed as a programme officer for handicap rights with the Human Right Law Network. “The scheme will encourage an able-bodied person to marry a financially independent disabled person for monetary gain,’’ he said. ‘We must go out to find partners’ Mrs. Varsha Hooja, trustee, ADAPT, an action group that promotes the cause of the disabled and others working and living together, felt that first priority should be given to creating awareness, promoting a disabled-friendly environment, and sensitizing society towards the abilities of the physically challenged. “Marriage will follow,’’ she said. On the other hand, the Handicap Welfare Association—a non-profit organization for the disabled by the disabled-—has welcomed the move. “If implemented in letter and spirit, the scheme could be a step towards the empowerment of the differently abled,’’ said Ravi Subbaiah, president of the association. To increase the reach of the welfare scheme, he cited the need to set up a disabled-friendly public infrastructure. “The disabled need to go out and interact with people in order to find a partner,’’ he said. Unfortunately, most cities in India do not have this infrastructure.
Maharashtra is not the first Indian state to award reward schemes. Goa and Karnataka governments have already taken steps by providing tax rebates and perks to corporates employing PWDs, a move that Waghmare believes is more effective towards integrating the physically challenged in society. Goa also has a similar marriage reward scheme. To prevent misuse of funds, social welfare officers will be in charge of implementation. The social justice and special assistance departments have a prepared a detailed proposal, which has been forwarded to the planning department for fund allocation.