October 2, 2010
Shri Mukul Wasnik
Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment
Government of India
Dr. Rajendra Prasad Road,
New Delhi - 110001
Hon’ble Shri. Wasnikji,
I am writing to you in reference to the formation of the newly formed taskforce for the Proposed National Centre for Universal Design & Barrier Free Environments.
I was invited to express my views by the Committee set up for drafting the ‘NEW DISABILITY ACT’, as a representative of the civil society. The meeting started very well, with all committee members pledging their commitment to including people with disabilities in the complete process. There were of course discontentment from people, but being the person I am, I appreciated both sides of the argument and had little to add besides about accessibility.
Accessibility is my subject so I was happy it was the first to be discussed. The legal consultant appreciated the richness of the document developed by the Sub group, who had unofficially consulted me extensively as an external expert for the draft. I am passionate about accessibility and am acutely aware of my role as the only disabled professional in the subject, and was happy to give the draft document shape and direction, without any vested interest, name or recognition. I was satisfied with our discussions, as I believed that we had included a majority of what we want to say. I somewhere take it as a moral responsibility to ensure that people with disabilities get mainstreamed.
The next session was on HRD. A senior government official commented that there should be professional education, namely, post graduate and above, available to disabled people. I was thrilled to hear this. I was reminded of the time, when as a disabled person, I needed to go abroad to do my post graduation in ‘Inclusive Environments,’ – another term for ‘Universal Design’, and I spent lakhs of rupees and am still struggling to pay-off my education loan. This would have been a fantastic opportunity for aspirants like myself. I invested so much because I believed in the discipline and wanted to improve the lives of disabled people in India by bringing in professionalism and quality.
Soon after a ‘government notice’ was circulated telling us about the constitution of a ‘Task Force to work out the details of the Proposed National Centre for Universal Design & Barrier Free Environments.’ This came as an absolute surprise to me. I was angry, in fact furious, to see this note, at my exclusion from the task force. My CV had been invited during the process of deciding the members to be on board, but I wasn’t selected. I am no judge for who is on the committee, but would like to know which of the members had credentials that were better suited than mine. To me, the only thing each one of them had in common was an employment in different government departments. It’s ironical that this came during a government committee meeting that was harmonizing the Disability Act with the UNCRPD. I am beginning to believe that on ground, nothing is going to change, even if we drafted the best Act.
My confidence in your team is shattered. How am I supposed to believe in a team who proclaim to be working for the cause of the disabled people, but cannot acknowledge their capability, even when backed with professional education? They cannot accept the value that disabled “professional” experts can bring to the table, as they may be far more sensitized to the issues of the disabled people.
Till now I have never voiced the rejection that I have constantly felt from the Government in being part of the system. I cannot even count the many instances, but today just seemed like the last straw. What pierces my heart is such callous behaviour from the government. I find a complete apathy to the subject that is still so lacking in our country. I am disillusioned with all promises made. I am tired of giving out for free, the knowledge that I spent so much to gain. I do not see any hope, and wonder what the point of continuing is? It is meaningless to have any provisions or facilities accessible to us. Why should people with disabilities opt for higher studies and raise their aspirations - only to be broken! And if MSJE themselves cannot appreciate us, then who will?
I am a person who likes to work as part of the system, and would like to continue the same way, but today I find myself thrown out, and forced to challenge it and dismiss it. Not out of my own free will, but as a reaction to the decisions of your Ministry.
Sir, I urge you to create opportunities for fresh thought and professional approach to be included within your team to achieve the high goals that we have set out for ourselves, under your able guidance, in a truly democratic environment.