Thursday, January 21, 2010

Delhi High Court disposes off the PIL in favour of Inclusive Education in Govt. Schools in Delhi

Dear Friends,

So finally the Delhi High Court has disposed of the Public Interest Litigation No. W.P.(C) 6771/2008, Social Jurist Vs. Govt. of NCT of Delhi & Anr, yesterday i.e. on 20.01.2010. The final order merely disposes off the petition while making its earlier directions final which need to be implemented and the Committee appointed for the purpose will oversee its implementation.

This PIL has brought to sharp focus the precarious condition of the disabled children in the Government Schools. The situation was getting worse as disability was left to the NGOs to handle as if the state only had a role of giving out doles to few NGOs working on this. This led to uprooting of many children with disabilities especially the Visually impaired and the Hearing impaired to cities where some facilities existed. While children with other disabilities suffered in silence with no school ready to take them for they had no infrastructure or support to teach them.

The judiciary has restored the faith of people with disabilities, their parents, families, friends and supporters, NGOs that with this positive judgement, situations will change for them in the Government Schools too and inclusive education will not get restricted to ideological books only.

If this judgement is to be implemented, it would require a large number of special educators, therapists and supporting staff trained in sign language, braille and teaching techniques to include all by using multi-sensory methods. A daunting task both for the Govt. and as well as Rehabilitation Council of India. RCI will have to make sure that quality of training is maintained on highest standards in all their affiliated colleges, institutes. In the past there have been several cases where there were questions raised on quality of training in certain institutions. This would be necessary to protect the future of children with disabilities in mainstream (inclusive) education.

While the Education Department of Delhi Government has initiated the process of changing the Recruitment Rules to include Special Educators, other rehabilitation professionals have not been thought about as yet. To make inclusive education a reality, children with disabilities would require support of therapists, rehabilitation professional among all which should be considered by the Government.

Now with Mr. Agrawal been appointed Chairman of a Committee to oversee implementation of Right to Education of Disabled Children, these issues could be taken up with the Committee and necessary inclusion of more rehab professionals could be effected.

Recently, Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has also indicated through a Categorical Circular that they would go to the extent of de-recognizing the Schools if any school dared to deny admission to a child with disability. This is a huge step in policy as well as in the domestic law of India - a step further to realize the mandate of UNCRPD.

We hope we will together face the challenges that might come in the way of realizing inclusive education a reality to make our nation a happier, welcoming & rights based place for its diverse population including those experiencing disability of any kind.

Regards

SC Vashishth
Advocate-Disability Rights
subhashvashishth@gmail.com
09811125521

Govt. brings in Notification to give equal benefit under PLI Scheme, but is that equal indeed?

Refer to my earlier post on Government seeking six week more time to bring in an appropriate insurance scheme which doesn't discriminate employees with disabilities.

After a prolonged period finally they came up with a notification on the last date of hearing which provides the maximum insurance limit up to 10 lacs as available to other employees. You can view the notification of Department of Post by clicking here: Notification dated 04th January 2010


In other words with this notification the maximum limit of insurance for physically handicapped persons has been made equal with maximum limit prescribed under Rule 3 of POIF Rules and revised from time to time to ensure non-discrimination and equality with other employees.

Consequently, POIF Rules have been amended to include Physically Disabled employees also. However, what remains to be seen is that the extra premium being charged from the employees with disabilities has yet not been addressed which would actually go on to prove that the insurance scheme is still discriminatory against employees with disabilities.

I am hopeful that they would address this lacunae also and not ask employees with disabilities to cough up extra premium for an insurance amount that is equal to other employees.

regards

Subhash Chandra Vashishth
Advocate-Disability Rights

Friday, November 13, 2009

Railways continues to discriminate against Persons with Disabilities

Dear Friends,

Laws fail to work when social attitudes and mindsets are rotten, diseased and highly biased towards persons with disabilities. Defect, abnormality, less fortunate, to be dealt with pity and not equal are what prevalent in our society still!

To top the list of such organisation is Indian Railways. They refuse to abide by law. Railways is a sea with so many divisions, branches, regions and due to lack of a uniform, transparent and effective system in place, rights of people get often abused at the whims and fancies of certain officials who continue to harbor such attitudes against the citizens with disabilities. This is precisely the reason that the Railways have not been able to fill up their backlog of jobs for disabled persons in a transparent manner despite Delhi High Court orders on a PIL filed by AICB, Delhi.

The present case is of Shri Jayanta Kumar Khamari, who wanted to join Railway Engineering Service and has been forcibly given Military Engineering Service. Result declared by Railways indicates his name on page 3 rank 38. Result 2007. He is still awaiting his choice posting even after two years of clearing the Indian Engineering Service. Reason- he doesn't have three fingers in the right hand!

Any physiotherapist/occupational therapist or orthopedic surgeon would opine that if one has thumb opposition available in the hand, majority of jobs requiring fine finger dexterity can be easily performed. Also in the present case, Jayanta functionally uses his left hand as efficiently as his right hand but Railway believes he can not work efficiently and his disability will affect his work. So they came up with a plea that they don't have any post identified for such candidate.

And mind you, the gentleman is working as Junior Engineer with CPWD for past several years with no adverse remarks on productivity due to disability!

High Court of Orissa has categorically expressed in its order, "We are of the view that the action of the Railway Board to allot the petitioner to Military Engineering Service under the Ministry of Defence against the earmarked vacancy for physically handicapped candidates on the plea that no post identified for such candidate was available in Railway Engineering Service is absolutely incorrect and unjustified. The Railway Board is required to act in terms of Section 33 of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995"

Hope good sense of law and human rights will prevail and Railways will make itself more receptive to diversity (read) employees with Disabilities to be contributing members of their workforce.

warm regards

Subhash Chandra Vashishth
Advocate & Consultant -Disability Rights
0981125521, subhashvashishth@gmail.com

Click here to read from Source: Even Rahul Gandhi Failed Me

Jayanta Kumar Khamari, an Indian Engineering Service graduate, is fighting for a job in the Indian Railway Service of Engineering. He says he was assured by many leaders, including Gandhi, but the Railways denied him his choice as he doesn't have three fingers on his right hand

Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the most powerful family in the country, can give cold feet to his veteran political opponents. Yet, there are things which are beyond his reach too. Ensuring a job with the Indian Railways, for instance.

That too, despite a High Court order in support of the applicant.

Jayanta Kumar Khamari, from Bhubaneswar, met the Congress general secretary in hope that he will be able to get justice with the young leader's intervention. However, even after receiving assurances from Gandhi, the 35-year-old Indian Engineering Service graduate continues to work in the Military Engineering Service, despite achieving 35th rank in the merit list that qualifies him for the Indian Railway Service of Engineering (IRSE).

Handicap trouble

Even the Railways has no qualms about Khamari's qualification. The problem lies in his right hand that is devoid of any fingers except for the thumb. Khamari suffered from a consumption disease in his childhood, thereby causing the amputation of four fingers in his right hand.

However, Khamari turned ambidextrous and is now able to use his left hand as efficiently as his right. But, the Railways believes the disability could become a hurdle in his way of achieving success as an engineer and therefore, he was refused his preferred choice of service.

"I appeared before the medical board, which recommended me for field work after examining my hand. The Railway Board was the nodal authority for appointment and it did not take up my case, as per my choice for the Indian Railway Service of Engineers," Khamari said.

For the last two years, Khamari has been waging a pitched battle against the alleged discrimination against him.

Even ten years of Khamari's experience as a junior engineer with the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) failed to convince the bosses at the Railway Board to allow him to achieve what he truly deserved.

In the hope that the 'most powerful leader in the ruling party' (Rahul Gandhi) will ensure his choice of job, Khamari met him in August last year. But contrary to his belief in the omnipotence of the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family, nothing happened.

Not only Gandhi, many others, including the Minister of State for Railways Naranbhai Rathwa, did not pursue Khamari's case.

"I met the chairman and secretary of the Railway Board. I also met Sanjay Mitra, joint secretary and Satyanarayan Sahu, director at the Prime Minister's Office but even they could not help me," Khamari told MiD DAY.

In court

The young engineer, however, did not lose hope and moved court against the alleged discrimination against his disability by the Railways. He lost in the lower courts, initially, yet continued his battle.

Now, Khamari has the backing of a favourable order by the Orissa High Court and an equally damning assessment of the discrimination by the Railways from the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (CCPD).


Long fight


Apart from a frustrating wait for what he deserved, Khamari had to face several other hardships to shuttle between Bhubaneswar and Delhi.

"When my case was pending with the CCPD, I stayed in Delhi for almost two months. During that period, almost for a month, I stayed at Jagannath temple, near IIT. And then with my friends in Jia Sarai, Katwaria Sarai and Ber Sarai," said Khamari. But, now with the High Court by his side, it seems that Khamari has finally got his 'hand of God'.

What the law says

Section 33 of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 provides that the appropriate government in every establishment shall appoint such percentage of vacancies not less than three per cent for persons or class of persons with disability of which one per cent shall be reserved for the persons suffering from:
i. Blindness or low vision
ii. Hearing impairment
iii. Locomotor disability or cerebral palsy, in the posts identified for each disability.

The proviso to Section 33 of the Act states the appropriate government body is at liberty to exempt any establishment from the provisions of this section by notification. From the order of the Chief Commissioner it appears there is no notification exempting the Railway from the purview of Section 33 of the Act.

The High Court said...

"We are of the view that the action of the Railway Board to allot the petitioner to Military Engineering Service under the Ministry of Defence against the earmarked vacancy for physically handicapped candidates on the plea that no post identified for such candidate was available in Railway Engineering Service is absolutely incorrect and unjustified. The Railway Board is required to act in terms of Section 33 of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995. Accordingly, we direct the Railway Board to issue necessary orders in favour of the petitioner in terms of the order of the Chief Commissioner within a period of two months from the date of receipt of this order." Justices BP Ray and BP Das, September 17, 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009

Awaited Judgement on Driving Licences to the Deaf

Dear All

I am eagerly waiting for the judgement but each time the Learned ASG has been seeking time on behalf of Govt. of India to frame rules!

Waiting for the day when he will come in the court with amended rules!

regards

Subhash

India's deaf may get licence to drive

The Government of India is considering issuing driving licences to hearing impaired people by amending the Motor Vehicles Act

Published on 11/9/2009 2:08:16 PM
By Kanu Sarda

New Delhi: India is one of the few countries in the world where the hearing impaired are not allowed to drive. But this may change soon, with the government informing the Delhi High Court it is considering changing its rules.

"We are considering issuing driving licences to hearing impaired people and thinking of amending our rules and regulations," Additional Solicitor General AS Chandiok informed a division bench of the High Court comprising Chief Justice Ajit Prakash Shah and Justice S Muralidhar.

The court has granted the government three months' time to take a decision and posted the matter for December 16.

At present, the Motor Vehicles Act prohibits the deaf from obtaining a driver's licence on the ground that they could be a source of danger to the public. There is around 50 million hearing impaired in India.

The court was hearing a public interest petition by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), seeking a direction to quash the requirement of having no hearing impairment for the issuance of a driving licence.

According to the NAD, the deaf are allowed to drive all over the world except in 26 countries including India.

"The only reason why India is not willing to issue licences is that Indian vehicles lack the special gadgets that other countries' vehicles have. But we are considering the same and hoping that we will be able to amend some rules," Chandiok informed the bench.

According to medical experts, those who can hear up to 60 decibels with the use of a hearing aid can be permitted to hold a driving licence for private vehicles, while those with a hearing level of up to 40 decibels with hearing aid can be allowed to drive commercial vehicles.

According to the petitioner, even the Delhi Police website indicates that deaf people can drive and states, "There is no reason why a deaf person cannot drive a private motorcar. However, the possibility of additional rear vision mirrors may need to be considered."

Delhi High Court relief to disabled quota suspended

Trying to know more about it, hence can't comment unless i see the order for myself!
regards
Subhash

Source: IANS
New Delhi, Nov 6 (IANS) The Supreme Court Friday suspended a Delhi High Court order to the union government to provide three percent reservation in state jobs to physically challenged persons as per a special law that accords one percent quota for visually impaired candidates.

A bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice Deepak Verma suspended the high court order saying: “We are staying the high court directions. They are prima facie incorrect.”

The bench, however, clarified that it was not suspending the law for three percent reservation in state jobs to physically challenged persons, the Disabilities Act.

The apex court gave the order on an appeal by the union government challenging a Delhi High Court order, which had directed the centre to fully comply with the Disabilities Act and reserve three per cent seats for diabled persons according to its 1996 notification.

While granting the relief to the union government, the bench refused to heed the plea of National Federation of the Blind which wanted that the High Court order be allowed to operate.

Advocate Pratiti Rungta, himself visually impaired, who appeared for the federation, opposed the government’s appeal but the bench declined it saying “it is not possible to continue with the high court order.”

Rungta’s failed to convince the bench that no recruitment has been made under the Act.

Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising contended that the directions of the high court were not workable.

The apex court had earlier directed the government to file a detailed status report regarding the extent to which the posts had been identified and filled up and also what steps had been taken to fill up the vacancies that had arisen since the Act has gone into force in 1996. The government is yet to file the status report.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Govt. buys six more weeks to amend postal insurance rules to stop discrimination against the disabled employees

Dear Friends,

This is in continuation to my earlier post on the discriminaton in Postal Life Insurance to the disabled wherein Hon'ble High Court of Delhi directed the Govt. to explain their stand. There have been some development on 07 October 2009 which are detailed below. I appreciate Ms. Sangeeta Sharma for covering this in her article for UNI and published in Indlaw.news.

regards
Subhash Chandra Vashishth, Advocate

Click here to read from Source: INDLAW

Govt seeks 6 weeks time to amend insurance rules for disabled
07th October 2009

The Centre today sought more time to amend its insurance rules for disabled to bring them at par with the insurance rules of others.The lawyer appearing on behalf of Solicitor General (SG) Gopal Subramanium told the bench, comprising Chief Justice A P Shah and Justice S Murlidhar, that the Government has had talks with the Chairman of Life Insurance Corporation and some changes have been made in the policy which governs the Insurance of the disabled.

The LIC will consult the Actuaries, ‘who will also consider the amendments and get back to us, therefore, we need at least six weeks time to make such amendments,’ the lawyer said. The Delhi High Court had earlier directed the Centre to reconsider its postal insurance rules and to treat the persons with disability at par with other people. Appearing on behalf of the government, Solicitor General (SG) Gopal Subramanium assured the court that the government will take broad base consultation with experts and also take advice from the insurance regulator and draft a fresh policy, which will have no disparity for the disabled.

The Court had directed the ASG to consider the rules again and draft a policy in a manner that it should not be discriminatory and must consider the distinction between various types of disability as well as mortality factor caused by it.

‘Moreover, life expectancy and other factors should also be taken into account,’ Justice Shah said. A petition was filed by one Vikas Gupta, an Assistant Professor in Department of History, Delhi University, who is visually impaired. In his petition he said, ‘Rules of the postal insurance for government employees is discriminatory as it gives a cover of Rs 5 lakh to a normal person, but a handicap has to pay much more premium and gets an insurance cover of Rs one lakh only.’

The lawyer for the petitioner Mr Pankaj Sinha, also a visually impaired, and lawyer Ms Roma Bhagat told the court that Article 25 E of United Nations Convention On the Rights for Persons with Disability (UNCRPD) prohibit discrimination in the insurance policy.

Ms. Bhagat told the court that their research has shown that those who are hearing impaired, visually impaired or orthopedically impaired are less prone to accidents as they have less mobility and are more cautious. She told the court that there is no data available in India to show the cause of death as the death certificate des not mention it. Also, there is no data to suggest that disabled are more prone to accidents, so why they have to pay more to get a less insurance cover, Ms Bhagat said.

UNI

Monday, September 21, 2009

When Deaf People could drive all over the World why not in India?

Dear Friends,
No wonder people often exclaim on the road "are you deaf?" when they don't get a side while overtaking another vehicle. Well, this long settled notion is going to wither away in India while we are moving towards more equalitarian and rights based society with this Writ Petition not only being admitted by the Delhi High Court on the petition filed by my colleagues at HRLN, more particularly Mr. Pankaj Sinha, the young lawyer, but also calling upon the Government of India to respond as to why this Writ not be issued and made absolute in favour of the petitioners.

You will be surprised to know that earlier also such attempts were made at Delhi High Court by the NGOs but the petitions were dismissed at the admission stage itself. But this time, a well drafted and well researched document was prepared by the lawyers and also perhaps first time articles of UNCRPD were used to articulate the injustice being meted out to this segment of the disabled fraternity in India.

World over the deaf are allowed to drive vehicles like any body else with some additional conditions of an extra back view mirror. This is with the scientific rationale that driving involves almost 80-90% visual activity and Deaf could be safe drivers without any risk to fellow travellers. Additionally with many new gadgets coming in the market to compensate the loss of hearing with other sensory organs, this discrimination is of course against the very principle of equality that Constitution of India grants to all its citizens including those experiencing hearing difficulties.

The Writ Petition being a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) is going to have far reaching consequences for the Ministry of Transport for they have to evolve now to address this issue and change all their laws, rules, procedures, forms, medical statements etc to include this segment.
I congratulate NAD (National Association of the Deaf), Advocate Pankaj Sinha and Senior Advocate Collin Gonsalves and 50 million deaf Indians on this success. We have moved a step further towards realising equality for all in India.



The news coverage:

'Should deaf drive? Centre says yes; HC to take call'

Why should an Indian deaf national be denied this right? 
COLIN GONSALVES, Senior lawyer
NEW DELHI:

Here's some good news for around 50 million hearing impaired people in the country.
The Centre has submitted before Delhi High Court that it is considering allowing those suffering from hearing disability to obtain a driving licence.

The archaic Motor Vehicles Act prohibits the deaf from obtaining a drivers' licence, saying they could be a "source of danger to the public".

The court is hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) seeking a direction to quash the requirement of having "no hearing impairment for the issuance of driving licence".

A Bench of Chief Justice Ajit Prakash Shah and Justice Manmohan on Friday recorded the statement by Additional Solicitor General A.S. Chandiok appearing for the Centre that they are considering all the relevant materials and will make appropriate recommendations on issuing driving licences to the hearing impaired. The process is set to be completed in four weeks.

Road Transport and Highways Ministry counsel Jyoti Singh said medical experts are of the view that those who can hear sound up to 60 decibels with the use of hearing aid can be permitted hold a driving licence for private vehicles, while those with hearing level up to 40 decibels with hearing aid can be allowed to drive commercial vehicles.
Singh said a specially constituted high-powered committee of the ministry will soon meet to discuss the issue.

DELHI COPS BACK PLAN

The PIL also draws strength from views expressed by Delhi Police on its website that deafness does not render one incapable of driving safely. "There is no reason why deaf people should not be allowed to drive,"the website says. But it suggests use of additional rear-view mirrors by this category of drivers The NAD said the deaf are allowed to drive all over the world, except in 26 countries. In the UK, Australia, Germany, Belgium, Thailand and Malaysia authorities insist on special double rear-view mirrors. In Malaysia and Sri Lanka this category of drivers are to indicate the handicap by putting a sticker on the back of the car so that other drivers do not hoot at the driver. But they are not allowed to drive commercial or passenger vehicles.

Senior lawyer and human rights activist Colin Gonsalves, who represented the NAD, told the court that discrimination against the deaf in India was a clear violation of Article 14 of the constitution.

"A deaf person with an international driver's licence is able to drive in India, then why should an Indian deaf national be denied this right? The Constitution demands equality for all before the law," he said.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Reservation on single post would amount to 100% Reservation

Dear Friends,

Many of us in the Disability sector believe that 3% reservation for the PWD can be claimed on all posts including single posts. However, the courts have several times clarified that reservation on the single posts would be discriminatory to others and is against the provisions of Constitution of India as it will tantamount to 100% reservation.
regards

SC Vashishth
To read from source, click here

Delhi HC dismisses plea for reservation to single post of VC
9/16/2009

The Delhi High Court dismissed the petition of a person who sought the court’s intervention to grant disability reservation to him in the appointment of Vice-Chancellor (VC) in newly-formed 15 universities.

A bench, comprising Chief Justice A P Shah and Justice Manmohan, dismissed the petition as withdrawn as there was only one post for the VC which could not be covered under any reservation clause.

Petitioner P R Ramanujam, who is suffering from locomotive disability and working as a professor of distance education and director of staff training and research institute in IGNOU, applied for the post of first VC in the newly formed 15 universities established under the Central University Act, 2009.

Mr Ramanujam contended that there was a statutory mechanism providing three per cent reservation to persons with disabilities, therefore, his name should be considered under the reserved category. Additional Solicitor General A S Chandhioke and Government Standing Counsel Ravinder Agarwal told the court that in this case reservation of any type could not be granted because there was only one seat for the post of VC and if reservation was granted, it would mean 100 per cent reservation. On this, the petitioner withdrew his petition.
UNI

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Delhi High Court directs Union of India to amend Insurance Rules for the Disabled Employees

Dear Friends,

Many govt. employees were voicing their concerns on the in equal treatment meted out to them by the Govt's Postal Life Insurance Scheme where with a normal premium, the non-disabled employees were given a cover up to Rs. 5 lac while the disabled employees were given merely a cover of just Rs. 1 lac, that too with an increased premium and lot of hiccups.

Citing UNCRPD and equality principles that Constitution of India guarantees to all its citizens - including those experiencing disabilities, the matter was filed before Delhi High Court by Advocate Pankaj Sinha (an emerging lawyer with blindness who currently work with Human Rights Law Network, Delhi).

The Court not only admitted the petition on the first date itself, but also directed the Solicitor General to appear in person and respond to the discrimination. I am so happy to share this news with you today - not only because this is a welcoming move by the Delhi High Court where a case is being fought citing UNCRPD but also because Mr. Pankaj Sinha has been my associate in the past and I am proud to have groomed him in the human rights and especially disability rights discourse - to which he was initially never inclined as he always wanted to be a criminal lawyer.

Cheers to Pankaj and Cheers to the Human Rights Law Network (read Mr. Collin Gonsalves)! and also to Mr. Rajiv Raturi, Director- Disability Rights Initiative, HRLN. Would post the detailed judgement once the final verdict is delivered by the Court.


Here is the detailed article by an enthusiast reporter Ms. Sangeeta Sharma from United News Of India(UNI). She supplements that the centre had sought 6 weeks time to ammend the concerned rules on the 07 October 09 (the date of hearing). Ms. Sangeeta can reached at snguni@gmail.com.


regards
S.C. Vashishth, Advocate

Delhi HC directs Centre to amend its insurance rules for disabled

8/31/2009

The Delhi High Court directed the Central government to reconsider its postal insurance rules and to treat the persons with disability at par with other people. Appearing on behalf of the government, Solicitor General (SG) Gopal Subramanium assured the court that the government will take broad base consultation with experts and also take advice from the insurance regulator and draft a fresh policy which will have no disparity for the disabled.A bench comprising Chief Justice A P Shah and Justice Manmohan directed the government to file their reply to the court within four weeks as to what will be their stand in this regard.

Fixing the matter for October 7, the court told the SG to revisit the Postal Insurance Policy as they have taken all disabled under one category. "When fixation of the policy is to be done, then you must consider the distinction between various types of disability as well as mortality factor caused by it. Moreover, life expectancy and other factors should also be taken into account," Justice Shah said.

A petition in this connection was filed by one Vikas Gupta, an Assistant Professor in Department of History, Delhi University, who is visually impaired. In his petition he said,"Rules of the postal insurance for government employees is discriminatory as it gives a cover of Rs 5 lakh to a normal person, but a handicap has to pay much more premium and gets an insurance cover of Rs one lakh only."

The Lawyer for the petitioner Mr Pankaj Sinha, also a visually impaired, and lawyer Ms Roma Bhagat told the court that Article 25 E of United Nations Convention On Rights for Personal Disability (UNCRPD) prohibit discrimination in the insurance policy. Ms Bhagat told the court that their research has shown that those who are hearing impaired, visually impaired or orthopedically impaired are less prone to accidents as they have less mobility and are more cautious.

She told the court that there is no data available in India to show the cause of death as the death certificate does not mention it. Also, there is no data to suggest that disabled are more prone to accidents so why they have to pay more to get a less insurance cover, Ms Bhagat said.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Contested Motherhood - Ms. Jo Chopra, LRF

Dear Friends,


Ms. Jo Chopra, Latika Roy Foundation, Dehradun is a fond mother and activist for the inherent human rights of those experiencing disabilitiies and particulary intellectual disabilities. This is subsequent to my earlier post reflecting my senior colleague Collin Gonsalves, Advocate, Supreme Court of India presenting the legal views and social implications of the judgement.


Click here to read from source: The Hindu - Contested motherhood
JO CHOPRA

Can the State order an intellectually-disabled person to have an abortion even though she wants to have the baby? A look at some of the issues regarding sexuality and disability…

What kind of sexuality education do children with disability need? Do people with disability even have sex lives? Do they have the right to reproduce and raise their own babies?

Of the issues confronting people with disability, sexuality is the most charged. A recent case brought many of the most compelling strands of this complex tapestry together and it took the Supreme Court to settle it.

A young woman with a mental handicap, living in a government institution as a State ward, had been raped repeatedly by two guards there. At 19, she became pregnant. When her condition was detected, the State determined she should have an abortion. The woman insisted she wanted to keep the child.
The matter went to court and it was decided she should be compelled to have the abortion. An advocate for the woman filed an appeal in the Supreme Court where, given the urgency, a speedy verdict was rendered: no woman, even one with a mental handicap, can be compelled to have an abortion.

Many people weighed in on this case but many important issues were ignored or not analysed:
A disabled woman was raped. People with mental handicaps are statistically more likely to be sexually abused. They are accustomed to being dependent on adults for many of their basic personal needs and submissive in their response to them. Vulnerable People with developmental disabilities may lack the social skills to assess a dangerous situation and the judgment to get out of it or raise an alarm. They are exposed to more “caregivers” than typically developing people. The more people one is intimately involved with, the higher the chance that one will be an exploiter.

The woman became pregnant. People with developmental disability are often assumed to be both asexual and infertile. While some disabilities do have an associated infertility component (only around 50 per cent of women with Down Syndrome, for example, are fertile), most otherwise healthy adults have the same chance of being able to reproduce as anyone and many have the same sex drive as normal people.

Her pregnancy was ordered to be terminated by the High Court, in spite of her insistence that she wanted the baby. Here is the heart of the issue. Can a person with an intellectual disability make a decision? Is intellectual capacity required for parenthood? What about the baby’s right to life? Is the State justified in forcing someone to undergo an invasive procedure?

Many who agreed with the court’s decision nonetheless believed the baby would have to be taken from the mother and reared by the State. It’s important to look carefully at biases and assumptions here.

Are we sure that a woman with a cognitive disability is incapable of taking care of her child? In theory, there is no reason to assume she couldn’t manage, albeit with support. Most able women need support to bring up their babies too. Motherhood is demanding and a high IQ may be one of the least important pre-requisites. As long as the mother is loving and attentive, as many mentally handicapped women are, and, crucially, has support from the community, a baby could prosper in her care.

Granted, that baby might not get the perfect intellectual environment, but is academic success the only goal in life? Does it guarantee happiness? A child brought up by a mother with intellectual impairment might still be deeply loved and cared for and might be satisfied and content — not things to be lightly discarded.

In spite of such logic, arguments were made about the State’s compelling interest in seeing that this child not be born. Because the baby would have to be brought up by the State, better not to allow it to be born in the first place. This reasoning is both specious and dangerous.

Many people who are not wards of the State might still be judged incompetent to bring up children. The socialite more interested in parties than in a baby’s needs, the workaholic whose ambition supersedes her parenting responsibilities, the habitual drinker, the poor woman living hand to mouth, the child bride, the list goes on.


Are we prepared to terminate the pregnancies of such women? The Supreme Court said no. Human rights cannot be granted to some people and denied to others without ensuring that eventually they will be denied to all.

What if the baby were born with a disability, as many opponents of the Supreme Court decision hinted darkly was likely?The real issue

What if it were? And here is the true heart of the matter. Disability is, I believe, “The Last Frontier” in the battle against discrimination and injustice. While people are indeed denied basic human rights for all sorts of reasons all over the world, no civilised person ever tries to justify it. When women are raped, when prisoners are tortured, when children are abused, when war crimes are committed, the civilised world recoils in horror. We speak out against human rights violations wherever we see them and so we should and so we must. Except when it comes to people with disability.

Abortion of girls because they are girls is called what it is: murder, brutality. Abortion of babies with disability is routine, sanctioned and worse, expected. In the U.S., it is estimated that 95 per cent of babies detected with Down Syndrome are aborted. Women who elect to have their babies anyway are made to feel irresponsible, reckless and unfairly burdening society. Chilling decisions
Eminent philosophers (Dr. Peter Singer of Princeton is one example) speak openly of the moral right of parents to abort handicapped babies before they are born and afterwards too. At the moment, it is acceptable only in early infancy, before parents have gotten “attached”. But as ethicists admit, if it’s acceptable to abort a disabled baby before birth, what’s wrong with doing it later? This opens the door to chilling possibilities.

Sexuality offers a prism through which we can better understand ourselves, the people around us and the values we hold most dearly. When we use it to look at disability, we may find, to our dismay, we are not the people we thought we were. Although we speak of tolerance and diversity, many of us are uncomfortable with people with disabilities making choices in their lives, distressed by the idea of them having sexual relationships and appalled by the vision of them bringing more people like themselves into the world.

The Last Frontier. It’s later than we think.

The writer is the Director of the Latika Roy Foundation ( http://www.latikaroy.org/) in Dehradun, a Resource Centre for People with Special Needs.