Lok Sabha polls 2014: TOI manifesto for minority voices; Enable the disabled, tap a 130-million-plus vote bank

NEW DELHI: Most political parties may see the disabled as a niche constituency, but they could actually be a formidable vote bank. A conservative, back-of-the-envelope calculation shows it could be as large as one out of every six voters. Here’s how the maths works out.
The 2011 Census found there were 27 million persons with disability (PWDs), or 2.3% of India’s 1.2 billion population. About 19 million can vote, being above 18 years.

Now assume there are three voters on average, including two parents, in the disabled person’s family. So, the number of those influenced by pro-PWD policies is 27 million multiplied by three, or 81 million. Assume again there are at least two persons in each family’s circle of influence — an additional 162 million. That means a whopping 260 million voters (19+81+162) would be kindly disposed towards parties addressing the needs of PWDs.

Of course, there may be more than one disabled person in the same family and their spheres of influence need not be mutually exclusive. But even if we were to discount half this number, that still adds up to 130 million, about a sixth of the 2014 electorate of 815 million.

Does this still seem too high a number? It could actually be higher, because most unofficial estimates peg the disabled population much higher. The census admits significant undercounting of the disabled. Neighbouring China, Pakistan and Nepal peg their PWD numbers at 5%, according to a UN report. In India, that would amount to well over 60 million people — way above the census count, and hence an even bigger vote bank.

The disability sector has a wish list for parties that are willing to address them as a serious constituency. To start with they want the certification system streamlined. Just 10% of the disabled have a disability certificate, a crucial document for getting concessions in jobs, education, etc. “A disability certificate issued by one department is not recognized by another. And a certificate issued in Delhi is not valid for another state. This harassment has to stop,” says Muralidharan, secretary of National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled.

Accessibility of all citizen-centric services and public places is a key demand. “Building bylaws should ensure at least the new ones coming up are made accessible for people with different disabilities,” says Arman Ali of Shishu Sarothi, a Guwahati NGO working among children with cerebral palsy. Ketan Kothari of Sightsavers in Mumbai wants all public places and transport, irrespective of ownership, to be made accessible. “Job opportunities, reservation etc make no sense without accessibility,” he says.

The private sector should also be made accountable to rule out discrimination. George Abraham of Score Foundation, a non-profit for the visually impaired, seeks greater emphasis on quality education and skill development. “We’re tired of being seen as bechaare lule, langde, andhe etc. There’s sufficient ability in persons with disability to see them as active contributors in the economy. It’s time to seriously start investing in them than merely providing for them,” he says.

Fresh legislation would be required to address these demands. Even with a new law, the real test would be its implementation, a commitment difficult to expect of political parties that cannot think beyond distributing wheelchairs or feeding people on leaders’ birth anniversaries. In their eyes, says Javed Abidi of the Disability Rights Group, PWDs are not a vote bank; hence they don’t matter. “The politician is ignorant that disabled people constitute 70 million (UN estimate) of our country’s population. And that’s not just 70 million people, but 70 million households. If any party were to take up disability, not as a ’cause’ or ‘charity’, but as a rights based development issue, they would certainly earn the goodwill of a lot of people,” he adds.

The Economic Times

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