It was recently that my book 'No Looking Back' was published by Rupa Publication was released by Mrs Sharmila Tagore. Release event coverage
I am sharing the blurb of the book
What would you do when you have lost all hope and tragedy strikes not once but twice? Give up? Shivani Gupta is a living example of how a woman goes on to live and achieve and make the lives of others better. No Looking Back : A True Story is inspiring and of course pricks your heart.
Summary of the Book
Twenty-two-year-old Shivani had thrown a party one evening—and awoken the next morning in hospital, her spine and her dreams shattered by a car crash.
Paralysed and then wheelchair-bound, it took Shivani years of pain, struggle and determination to regain control of her life and her body; to demand and receive respect from the world; to gain acceptance from within and without; to find love and happiness.
Then tragedy struck again. As the newly married Shivani drove to Manali with her family, an oil tanker collided head-on with the car; bedridden once again, she watched helplessly as first her father-in-law and then Vikas, her husband, succumbed to their injuries. And, yet, Shivani refused to surrender—she would not let her inability to walk keep her from achieving her ambitions.
No Looking Back is a deeply moving and inspiring narrative about surviving the challenges of disability in a country that takes little account of the daily difficulties and indignities faced by approximately fifteen per cent of the world’s population, whether in terms of infrastructure, legislation or awareness—a country that appears to believe that disability equals invisibility from the public discourse. Undeterred by the hand fate had dealt her, Shivani Gupta has chosen to champion the cause of the disabled everywhere and is today one of India’s best-known accessibility consultants. Her life is an extraordinary testament to true courage and the indomitability of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming odds.
It was recently I had an opportunity to
visit Mauritius and interact with the warm people there. My interaction was
mostly with people with disabilities ands their organizations. There struggles
and challenges seemed to be the same as ours and their advocacy movement had
familiar traits. I for one felt very at home and one with them.
It was during our discussions while
preparing a stakeholders report from the Universal Periodic Review of Mauritius
did we realise that Mauritius while ratifying the convention had three
reservations. The more I think of these reservations the more amazed I get by
how the State could ratify on one side and make these reservations they did on
the other sides. The reservations seem to go against the principles of the
convention. I cannot help but express myself aloud my opinion of these
reservations on people with disabilities in Mauritius with a Disclaimer that I
am not an expert in human right law and the expression is solely my thoughts.
the time when the State signed the convention in 2007 put a reservation on
Article 11 Situations of risks and Humanitarian Emergencies. The state said
that "The Government of the Republic of Mauritius (…) does not consider
itself bound to take measures specified in article 11 unless permitted by
domestic legislation expressly providing for the taking of such measures."
What this reservation
seems to imply is that the State will not take any measures to ensure the protection and safety of
persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of armed
conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters
unless their domestic law specially suggests that they must provide them
protection and safety to persons with disabilities.So would this on ground mean that at the time
of an emergency the State will protect all other people except persons with
disabilities?More over with this
reservation there is an implication on Article 9 1(b) that talks about removing
barriers to make emergency services accessible.
accessibility they say -“The Republic of
Mauritius declares that it shall not for the time being take any of the
measures provided for in Articles 9.2 (d) and (e) in view of their heavy
Accessibility for all persons with disabilities is a
pre-requisite for their inclusion. Without making provision for accessibility
realization of a number of articles in the convention including living
independently, education, employment, sports and culture, personal mobility, access
to justice etc. is not possible. Accessibility is one of the cross cutting
articles and is also one of the general principles; hence a reservation on any
aspect of accessibility will effect most other articles.
Article 9 2(d) talks about making public signage
available in public places available in braille and in easy to read formats.
And article 9 2(e) talks about availability of live assistance and
intermediaries such as sign language interpreters, scribes, and readers etc. to
make facilities more accessible.
These reservations create discrimination between the disability
constituencies as signage in Braille is largely used by blind persons and easy
to read formats is most required for persons with intellectual disabilities.Also while live assistance and intermediaries
may required by any person with disabilities, but they are very much required
for Deaf persons, blind persons and deafblind persons to enable them to have
access to information and be able to communicate effectively.
Reservations to these two articles would have an
adverse effect on the implementation of Article 21 of the convention that apart
from other things talks about recognition and promotion of sign language and
braille to enable all persons with disabilities to have freedom of expression
and opinion, and access to information.
Additionally “heavy financial implication” as a reason
for these reservations seems unfair considering that article 4.2 of the
convention requires the state to a use to maximum of its available resources to
progressively achieve full realization of economic social and cultural rights
and without accessibility these rights cannot be achieved.Considering that implementation has to be achieved
progressively and not be achieved overnight then why have the reservations at
regard Education, they have a reservation to Article 24.2 (b), the Republic of
Mauritius has a policy of inclusive education which is being implemented
incrementally alongside special education.”
In discussion the DPO’s expressed that while education
is free for all children but for children with disabilities since they are
admitted only to special schools run by NGO’s, they were required to pay some
amount towards their education for books, special aids etc. Moreover since few
communities have special schools there is an additional transport costs that
parents of children with disabilities have to incur. This transport costs are
high as the bus company charged for the entire year including the holidays.
Children with disabilities having to pay for what is
free for other children is discriminatory. Moreover inclusive education is not
being incrementally provided as claimed by the state and how can it be if there
is a reservation to Article 9.2(e). For inclusion in schools there is a definite
need for live assistance and intermediary services.
Having put a reservation on the article 24.2(4) that says
“Persons with disabilities can access an inclusive, quality and free primary
education and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities
in which they live;” the State seems to have comfortably abstained from its
duty to provide inclusive education. Special education is highly prevalent and
that too not available in the child’s community. Moreover special education is
of poor quality and costs money to children with disabilities. It seems
difficult that this situation will change in the near future as by making this
reservation the state seems to have boldly stated their plan to continue with
special education and discriminatory practices.
The first step towards inclusion must be for the State
to not have such reservations. These reservations make their intent clear hence
it is important for the DPO’s to advocate and have these reservations taken
away thereby, taking a step closer to progressively achieving full inclusion of
all persons with disabilities.
Periodic Review (UPR) is a new and unique mechanism of the United
Nations, which was created in March 2006. Currently, no other universal mechanism of this
kind exists. The UPR is an
automatic process of peer reviews the human rights practices of all 192 UN
member states in the world, once every four years. The UPR is a significant innovation as it is is based on
equal treatment for all countries.
The UPR is a State-driven
process under the Human Rights Council that provides the opportunity for each
State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights
situations in their countries and to fulfill their human rights
obligations. There are three reports that are prepared and made available
on the website of Office of High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR)
for each State before the their UPR session namely:
1.The report prepared and submitted by the State
2.The Stakeholders report – a compilation of several
reports received by the OHCHR from various national NGO’s and the NHRC
3.A UN report - compiled by the OHCHR based on information contained in the
reports of treaty bodies, special procedures, and other relevant official UN
My Experience of engaging in the process
My experience of the UPR
began when I attended a meeting organized by the Working Group on Human Rights (WGHR)
who were in the process of compiling a stakeholder report and therefore were
consulting with different stakeholders. It was my first experience of working
with a group that represented stakeholders from varying human rights
organisations such as women, children, LGBT, Dalits and many others.
My biggest realization
from attending this consultation was that everybody was talking about their
issues and in spite of disability being such a cross cutting issue it is alien
for everybody. This is to say the women’s organisations are not talking of
disabled women, children’s organisations are not talking about disabled
children and so on. Therefore we need to be there to represent our issues
ourselves. Members of the National Disability Network (NDN) were present in all
WGHR consultations yet their final report included nothing on disabled. I
believe it was so because it was the first time for all of us and with regular
interaction I am sure things would change.
Following this were the
regional and national consultations orgaised by the National Human Rights
Commission (NHRC) for the preparation of their report. Here again no body
understood disability issues and in spite of participation of disabled persons
and DPO’s in all consultations their report had negligible mention of
The National Disability
Network was keen to make a strong presentation on disability and therefore
decided to draft our own stakeholders report. With inputs from over 20 national
DPO’s the NDN prepared a report focusing on disability issues. It was with
great delight that we noticed an inclusion of one recommendation from the NDN
report. Though only one recommendation was taken into the main stakeholders
report but it represented the recognition of a disability organizations network
for the first time.
With the support of the International Disability Alliance, I got an opportunity to
meet with persons working on human rights and disability issues as a representative of NDN. I met with five
missions in Geneva namely – Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Maldives and Canada. It
was in these meeting that I gained clarity of the process and how it works. I
also realized that the three reports though important yet had limited function
and the actual advocacy began a month before the actual UPR session was to
happen. How it works is that the missions in Geneva and elsewhere sends
recommendations to their home office, who finalizes them based on diplomatic
relations with States being reviewed and the thrust areas of the country preparing recommendation. These
recommendations need not always be dependent on the three reports.
India is going to have
its second UPR in the 13th session in May 2012. The country will be
reviewed on how it has progressed on recommendations made during the first
cycle additionally there will be an opportunity for other States to make new
recommendations. Each country’s UPR session is for three hours, which is
podcasted live. Every State will have not more than a minute to make their
points and therefore the recommendations they make have to be very crisp.
my meetings, I did get a confirmation from the Austrian and the Maldives
missions that they would make recommendations related to disability to India at
the upcoming UPR. This would be an achievement from the last UPR where India
had zero recommendations pertaining to disability. There is further opportunity
for getting more recommendations by meeting various missions in Delhi and
presenting our issues to them.
Main leanings from my participating
in the UPR process
1.UPR is a big and the
only one of its kind international advocacy opportunity for the disability
sector to highlight our issues and make them heard by our government especially
in a scenario where the UNCRPD Treaty body would review India several years
after our State report is submitted owing to their work backlog. Further the UPR recommendations on disability will be fed into the CRPD treaty body report.
2.Regular and constant
networking with other human rights organisations is crucial for us to ensure
integration of our issues and getting more support and partners to have our
3.Our preparation for the
UPR has to begin well in advance by sending in the stakeholders report before
the submission deadline and then advocating with various missions at least two
weeks before the actual session.
4.We need to provide
specific, crisp and concrete recommendations to the missions that are as cross
cutting as possible. Related background material on the recommendations would
make acceptance of our recommendation easier and better.
5.Different missions must
be provided with different recommendations, as it would be an opportunity lost
if all States make the same recommendation to country being reviewed.
6.Most importantly it is
a process that gives us an opportunity to unite and review our specific matters
together. It requires us to recognise each other’s issues and work on them
collectively as an individuals voice has no place in the process.