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Consultations on New Disability Law in India: The Sham, the Shame and the Blame Game

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While Minister, Social Justice and Empowerment, in all good intentions announced on February 11 that “none should be left out to say that she/he had a view but did not get an opportunity”, his own Committee drafting the new disability law has just shown to the world how not to organise Consultations! From missing translations to hurried translations to slamming the doors on genuine stakeholders, the recently completed State Consultations on the Working Draft of the new disability law went from bad to worse. Mariam Jafri of D.N.I.S. gives an overview of what happened or did not happen in these Consultations and what the disability sector had to say about them.

The disability sector is witnessing a great movement. The drafting of a new disability rights law in consultation with each and every person affected by disability was a very romantic idea. “None should be left out to say that she/he had a view but did not get an opportunity,” said Mr. Mukul Wasnik, Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment before flagging off a series of state level consultations for the whole of India. His words echoed the feelings of many who have been fighting for disability rights and justice.

There was a need for a good translation in regional languages for every state to make this possible, as expressed by the Ministry, the National Trust, the Disabled People’s Organizations (D.P.O.s), disabled people, parents, EVERYONE! A total of 17 consultations (combined and individual) began on February 15, 2011 to be concluded by March 15, 2011.

What followed this was anger and uproar in some states, disappointment and deceit in many others.

In order to assess these Pan-India consultations, we thought it would be a good idea to begin with the basics of each consultation as stated by the government, (i) the translation of the draft in all regional languages, (ii) the translations made widely available to each one in the sector, and (iii) effective participation of the disability sector in the consultations. This was what the government wanted, the disabled people hoped for and the consultations were all about.

There was great enthusiasm. The time had finally come when disabled people could see “nothing about us without us” turn real. What transpired in reality was nothing anyone imagined, hoped, or was even prepared for.

The ‘online’ Hindi translation came only on February 21, just 7 days before the consultation, taking much longer to be converted into Unicode, Braille and audio and then to be distributed to the nook and corners of Delhi, N.C.R. and Haryana. Hence leaving very little time for anyone to read and understand it. The Hindi translation, along with English to some extent was going to be used by the multi-lingual country of ours, either because the regional language translations of the draft law did not happen at all or because they did not reach the people for a very long time.

The Marathi translation came only 5 days prior to the consultation. Ketan Kothari called it “poor” and Lata Bhise, disability activist found it to be “full of mistakes”. The Tamil version came out 2 days prior to the consultation in Chennai! Jammu and Kashmir managed a very hurriedly done translation in Urdu in the form of a link a day before the consultation in the evening. The Punjabi translation did not happen at all. Gujarat had to re-organize it’s consultation after a virtual revolt at the first one, because a translation in Gujarati was done only of the Executive Summary and not the full draft law. Madhya Pradesh went ahead with the consultation even before the Hindi translation was done!! Sonu Golkar of Viklang Manch demanded that the consultation should be reorganized. However, the committee kept silent and a fresh consultation never happened.

A good and easy to understand translation with its timely release was the key for the entire consultation process to match its own vision. It was extremely important for the draft to reach the people and for them to have sufficient time to read and understand the 115 pages of law that could turn their lives around.

Internet is definitely a boon for the computer savvies and not so much for the remote corners of India. Sending out links or soft copies does not seem justified when one talks about involving the rural and the underprivileged. The reality is that many Non Governmental Organizations (N.G.O.s) /D.P.O.s also do not have access to e-mails or even computers. This specifically happened in the case of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. Javed Ahmed Tak had to request Human Rights Law Network (H.R.L.N.), the local coordinators to give him at least a copy of the Urdu translation per N.G.O./D.P.O. Amitabh Mehrotra’s request for some more time to ensure that everyone received a copy of the draft in such a huge state as Uttar Pradesh was declined.

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