Rights – Unknown
Prejudice which articulates itself in discrimination and oppression goes against the first two Articles of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). According to Article 1 of UDHR ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’. Article 2 highlights that ‘Everyone is entitled to all rights and freedom, without distinction of any kind’. Prejudice or discrimination against the persons with disabilities (PWDs) is referred to as ableism. The most obtrusive character of an ableist society is that people see the disability before anything else.
During 16th century, persons with disabilities (PWDs) were considered as being possessed by evil spirits. In the 1800s, PWDs were considered as ‘unfit’ and unable to contribute towards the society. They were emblematized as objects of entertainment in circuses and exhibitions. In the 19th century, supporters of social Darwinism opposed state-aid to the poor and ‘handicapped’. They reasoned that the preservation of the ‘unfit’ would impede the process of the natural selection of the best or fittest elements necessary for progeny.
Thus the stigmatization of PWDs resulted in their social and economic marginalization.
This gave rise to a number of movements around the globe by PWDs in order to seek their legitimate rights, such as a disability movement in the USA that began in 1960. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was passed to give legal protection to the civil rights of people with disabilities. Section 501,503 and 504 of the Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of physical as well as mental disabilities. The world finally had to transform its attitude towards PWD by giving weightage to their very existence. In UK, the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995 was passed following the extensive activism by people with disabilities over several decades.
In Srilanka, Serenath Attanyak, a full time wheel chair user who had contracted polio at the age of two, was the first person with disability to hold ministerial portfolio and remained Chief Minister for a brief period as well. According to a report published in October 2008 by The Telegraph, former Prime Minister of United Kingdom, Mr. Gordon Brown had been left blind in one eye after a rugby accident at the age of 16. He remained PM from 2007-2010. 32nd President of United States of America, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was paralyzed from waist down because of polio.
The world joined hands to acknowledge rights of PWDs resulting in a Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted in 2006. According to the United Nations, over 1 billion people worldwide live with some form of disability. The main purpose of the Convention is to recognize their rights and change the optics of the masses who usually consider them as objects of charity, medical treatment and social protection. Article 5 of the Convention highlights the equality and non discrimination. Article 9 of the Convention pertains to enabling persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life. Article 29 relates to “the participation in political and public life” which implies that the States parties to the Convention shall guarantee to the persons with disabilities, political rights and the opportunities to enjoy them on equal basis with others.
Pakistan signed the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2011. Almost 15% of Pakistan’s population comprises of persons with disabilities. According to Dr. Maryam Mallick, technical adviser of WHO on disabilities and rehabilitation, Pakistan is a signatory to the Convention since 2011 but has not submitted a single report about the status of disabled persons when the Convention clearly requires signatory states to submit the particular report every year.
India, on the other hand, passed the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995 for taking care of citizens with disabilities and further revised it in compliance with the UN after ratifying the 2006 Convention in 2010.
An Ordinance to provide for the employment, rehabilitation and welfare of disabled persons in Pakistan, was promulgated on December 29, 1981, known as the The Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance 1981. This ordinance defined the responsibilities of the state towards the protection of rights of PWDs, including the right to education, employment and rehabilitation. Under this Ordinance, National Council for rehabilitation of disabled person was also established to formulate policies.
Unfortunately disabled people are still being deprived of their rights. 2% of the total seats are reserved for them in federal departments as well as in the provinces but the dilemma is that non-disabled persons are appointed on the seats reserved for disabled persons. Moreover, the Special Citizens Act of 2008 seeks to provide disabled citizens accessibility to every public place, which is akin to Article 9 of Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but no arrangements have been made to facilitate PWDs to avail public transport nor can they easily access parks, schools, buildings shopping malls etc. on their own.
To add fuel to fire there is not a single reserved seat in Parliament despite being mentally fit. National Policy for Disabled Persons was launched in 2002 but it remained unimplemented and finally expired in 2007 owing to the ignorance of the Members of the Assembly.
A Bill for an amendment in the Constitution was presented by a National Assembly Member Keshwar Zehra in 2013, which proposed amendment to Article 51 (composition of the total number of seats in Parliament), to increase the total number of seats from 342 to 346, thereby, allowing disabled persons to participate more meaningfully in political affairs. Moreover, the Bill proposed to increase the number of seats in the Senate from 104 to 108, as per Article 59, but it seems that this wasn’t on the legislature’s priority list.
The ‘equality of citizens’ is highlighted in Article 25 of our Constitution. Yet there is a big question mark on the equal rights of 15% of the population.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization with which she might be associated.