In an exclusive interview, Javed Adibi director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) in India, and the founder of the Disability Rights Group, shares his views on the shape of disability movement in India with BS Manjunath.
Javed has been a wheelchair-user since the age of 15. He is also a successful freelance political journalist and was approached in 1993 by Sonia Gandhi to head the disabilities unit of the newly established Rajeev Gandhi Foundation. His efforts and determination resulted in the passing of India’s Disability Act of 1995, giving legal protection and support to the disabled. Prior to the Act, disabled citizens in India had no legal recourse to demand significant, lasting changes from both the public and private sectors. Among other social protections, the Act provides economic incentives for businesses that hire disabled employees, and allows funding for improved accessibility to public buildings and institutions.
Q. I remember you had conveyed your displeasure about the previous year’s budget to Prime Minister, how do you rate the 2011-12 budget?
Javed Abidi – This year’s budget is a big disappointment to the disabled community. Lot of promises made during 11th five year plan is not emphasized in the budget such as recognition of sign language, or starting a national centre for universal design. I would say there was no word in this year’s budget on disability. In terms of customer service, accessibility, and concession, even the Railway budget was more disabled friendly. Railway Minister has sanctioned concession for disabled citizens in Rajadani and other fast trains. On the scale of ten, I would give 5 or 6 to the railway budget.
Q. What are the reactions you have received from census commissioners? How do you think the census would help in framing immediate agenda?
Javed Abidi – We have received mixed reactions from the census commissioners, both positive and negative. In Punjab the enumerators did not count the institutionalized children. In other places the enumerator have done and collected all the relevant data. Once the exact number of disabled persons in the country is established, it would help in framing the future agenda and allocation of resources.
Q. On the last World Disability Day you had a silent protest outside India Gate with many demands, are any of them being fulfilled?
Javed Abidi – Our prime demand is to set up a separate ministry for disability. We are awaiting the response from the government.
Q. On the one hand there are genuine organizations that are striving for the welfare of the differently-abled, whereas few years back several NGO’s were black listed under violation of FERA (Foreign Exchange Regulation Act) what are your views on this issue?
Javed Abidi – Social sector is just like any other sector. Though we can’t make any sweeping judgment on this issue, those who are involved should be punished and those who are involved in noble work like advocacy, service should be rewarded.
Q. Once you commented that the disability movement in India has not grown as powerful as dalit movement or any other movement. Don’t you think it’s due to the lack of communication?
Javed Abidi – Firstly the disability is itself one of the crucial factors, and secondly the movement was unorganized. These are the two primary reasons for the disability movement in India for not becoming as vibrant or powerful a movement as other.
Q. Recently Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) started a course in special education for mainstream teachers. Do you think courses like this will help? Is there shortage of special teachers?
Javed Abidi – I strongly believe in inclusive education. Every drop in the ocean is welcome, if IGNOU, or Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) is starting a special course, they are a welcome step. Coming to second part of your question, there is definitely huge dearth of resources.