Guest post by RIJUL KOCHHAR
Contrary to what they may tell you, they don’t really give a damn about the disabled in this country. Systemically flouted laws, polite terms substituted for impolite realities, and stony silences meted to those who seek to question—these comprise the working of the disability model in this nation, a model that only goes so far as the abundance of obligation and ‘feel-good’ eye-wash will take it. The juggling of words—‘disabled’ for handicapped, then annihilation of ‘crippled’, and finally that awful phrase regnant in contemporary fashionable use, ‘differently/specially-abled’—constitutes our single biggest achievement as far as dealing with the disabled as rights-bearing persons is concerned.I have a more immediate issue at hand, a small matter of procedure, but it illustrates the seeming bombast of the above statement well. The matter pertains to law, its (un)wilful contravention by an organization affiliated with the state, and an, until now, carefully maintained silence by institutions, media and watchdogs (Kafila is a welcome exception). It may seemingly be a trivial issue, a matter of a mere piece of paper, a quibble with procedure, but these—that is, paper, procedure and the ‘trivial’ struggle encountered in the minute interstices of everyday life in securing, challenging or encountering discursive practices—have a very real bearing, and place a very severe demand on the life of the disabled. The disabled are that perpetually courted and perennially violated Other of modern contemporary India, that body which is forever held at arm’s length, and which is the object of a wide variety of discourses—comprising either massive self-congratulatory flattery or murderous condemnation. “See,” the bureaucrat, activist or civil society personality will tell you, “See, how much we have done for them?” In this, the state, civil society, families, and even the disabled are complicit, but an anthropological excavation of such a politics of affect needn’t detain us here very long.
Something more immediate, something emergent in a small place and dealing with a larger issue, concerns me here. Delhi University has recently put up a circular on its website (and this information—celebratory in tone and myopic in reality—is also widely available in the media). This is regarding admissions for prospective disabled/Physically Handicapped (PH) students in the 2012-13 cycle. The move follows from an attempt to streamline the admission process—by doing away with mandatory medical ‘evaluations’ at the physically forbidding and inaccessible university health centre. This is useful; it is welcome. However, the requirement for candidates to possess disability certificates issued less than three years before seeking admission is in violation of the provisions of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995. (see the FAQ section in the Admissions 2012-13 guidelines: Under the question ‘Do I need to remake my medical certificate?,’ the answer provided is ‘Yes. If it is more than 3 year old.’)
The amended rules to the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Particiapation) Act, 1995 were notified by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in December 2009. This notification is available at the following website addresses:
a) Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India:
b) Office of the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, Government of India:
Under “CHAPTER II – DISABILITY CERTIFICATE: Section 4 – Issue of disability certificate: Sub-section 3,” this amended Act reads:
|“The medical authority shall, after due examination, –
It is quite clear from the legalese here that if a person has been medically certified as permanently disabled—with no chances of variation of the degree of disability over time—then he/she shall be entitled to a permanent disability certificate. In case the degree of disability of the person is variable over a period of time, he/she shall be issued a certificate with a period of validity that has been clearly indicated. Doctors have wide discretion here, the pitfalls and politics of which we need to think about and challenge even as we think of disability socially. That thinking is long term; it is transformatory to our very existential survival as human beings. The struggles with getting ‘certified’ is more immediate; it is adjustive with wider, systemic oppression, including with the burdens of discourses and ways of thinking about the self in relation to the body in everyday life, spaces and practices.
To my mind, the specific political geography of higher education—the spaces it inhabits, the avenues it seeks to open, the discursive practices it nurtures, the interactions it inculcates or accidentally actuates—can serve that transformatory goal of thinking about disability; that potential is, however, hindered in the more immediate, adjustive struggles with law, paper and procedure. Wider potentials for altered notions about disabled persons are not only contravened in the everyday marginalization processes at play; these potentials are effectively extinguished by the toxic struggles of bureaucratic meanderings, corruption and arbitrary inflexibility, and often-illegal organizational practices. One of those struggles I’m seeking to highlight here—a small issue with stillborn potentialities for wider change.
The Delhi University’s guidelines for admissions for prospective disabled/Physically Handicapped (PH) students for 2012-13 contravenes the spirit and violates the legal provisions of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Particiapation) Act, 1995 [and its amendments in 2009, as mentioned above]. A person with a permanent disability should not be required to produce a disability certificate that has been issued ‘less than three years’ (or any number of years, for that matter!) before seeking admission to the university; in this case, a permanent disability certificate is permanently valid. In cases where disabilities are not permanent, or are variable over time, the validity of a disability certificate shall be clearly stated on the certificate itself. Further, the Delhi University cannot arbitrarily decide the validity period for a disability certificate. Such a certificate, by law, is determined to be valid or otherwise by provisions of the 2009-amended Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Particiapation) Act, 1995 and by clearly defined medical authorities issuing the said certificate of disability (in some ways, an interesting parallel with the permanency of SC/ST certificates may be acknowledged).
The spirit of this legislation (amended in the aftermath of the signing of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2006) is to enable access for disadvantaged, disabled persons to some provisions, rights, safety nets and opportunities afforded by the state, by educational institutions and by society at large. Delhi University, in the process of making admissions procedures easier for disabled persons, is violating the clearly established and legally defined criteria vis-à-vis disability certificates and the inherent question of their validity. Not only is the process of obtaining disability certificates harrowing for disabled persons; doing so repeatedly and on the whims of bureaucratic institutions is arbitrary and in contravention of the provisions of the law (and, as a matter of fact, a large number of very varied organizations in this country exercise that whim casually and very frequently).
Procuring disability certificates or getting them renewed under organizational demands often function in the same fashion as one would speak of renewing driving licenses. This, despite the relative ease of procuring/renewing driving licenses, or the relatively non-critical nature of possessing them. However, if one were to reflectively contrast driving licenses with the struggles of obtaining/ or renewing disability certificates (speak to any disabled person in this connection, for an endless variety of horror tales born in the hospitals of our nation); if one gave credence to the absolute centrality of disability certificates in the lives of disabled persons, then an entirely different dynamic would stare us in the face: endless lines in hospitals; haggling with unkind, unbothered, often self-serving doctors; feeling the burdens of being counted amongst the perennially ill, of being forsaken, even if one is not perpetually afflicted by any disease or illness; the awesome stigma of being ‘examined’ and handled by ‘specialists’, almost as if one has lost agency and physical prowess in one fell swoop; the humiliation of having to beg these ‘specialists’ for being suitably certified so that one may have a fighting chance in the world—these comprise some of the toxic minutiae of struggles for disabled rights, this time in India’s hospitals and in our experiences with procedural bureaucracy.
This is the struggle that Delhi University seeks to replicate every three years (while other institutions and organizations have their own arbitrary cycles seeking to compel persons into collective despondency), in spite of legislation amended to alleviate some of the worst burdens of this process. Given the recently unearthed instances of ancient abuse of the rights of disabled persons in this country—instances of horror now given some publicity in the media, though not entirely or in full measure vis-à-vis their occurrences in the deep, hidden interstices of everyday life—I believe this episode of legal violations at Delhi University too requires the attention, through the media, of society at large, for it points towards systemic apathy. The disabled often suffer in silence, mostly for lack of options and opportunities to highlight their own plight. If it is deemed right and proper to indeed give a damn about a vast segment of silenced voices, then the moment to channel that silence into a conversation is desperately awaited.
[Full disclosure: (1) I have made use of the 3% quota under the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Particiapation) Act, 1995, throughout my education at Delhi University. While my disability was a creature of circumstances, reconstructed life in the aftermath of that catastrophic life-event has gained from rights granted me by law. (2) I have written about the violation of the law to various persons in the Delhi University’s bureaucratic hierarchy; I await their responses. (3) I contacted some print-media organizations with this piece of amateur of investigation; I never heard from them in print.]
Rijul Kochhar was, until the onset of this summer, an MA student in the Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, Delhi University.