By Zainab Sohail
Prejudice which articulates itself in discrimination and oppression go against the first two Articles of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR). According to Article 1 of UNDHR ‘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 Ableism. Most obtrusive character of an ableist society is that people see disability first before anything.
During 16th century Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) were considered as possessed by evil spirits. In 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 19th century supporters of social Darwinism opposed state-aid to the poor and otherwise ‘handicapped’. They reasoned that preservation of the “unfit” would impede the process of natural selection as selection of the best or fittest elements necessary for progeny.
The stigmatization of PWDs resulted in social and economic marginalization.
Certain movements started around the globe by PWDs for seeking their legitimate rights. In U.S.A disability movement began in 1960. Civil rights of people with disabilities were protected by the law and “The Rehabilitation Act of 1973” was passed. Section 501,503 and 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of either physical or mental disabilities. The world finally had to transform its attitude towards PWD by giving weight age to their very existence. In U.K Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995 was passed following the extensive activism by people with disabilities over several decades.
In Srilanka’s Serenath Attanyak was a full time wheel chair user due to polio at age of two. He was the first person with disability to hold ministerial portfolio he remained Chief Minister for a brief period as well. According to report of “The Telegraph” in October 2008, former P.M of U.K Mr. Gordon Brown was left blind in one eye after rugby accident at the age of 16. He remained P.M from 2007-2010. 32nd President of U.S.A Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was paralyzed from the waist down because of polio.
World joined the hands to acknowledge their rights as result of which Convention on the Rights of persons with disabilities was adopted in 2006.According to U.N over 1 billion people live with some disability worldwide. Main purpose of the convention is to recognize their rights and change the optique of masses of considering them as objects of charity, medical treatment, and social protection. Article 5 of convention on the rights of persons with disabilities highlights the equality and non discrimination. Article 9 of the convention is related to accessibility to enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life. Article 29 is related to “the participation in political and public life” i.e. 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 constitutes persons with disabilities. According to technical adviser of WHO on disabilities and rehabilitations Dr. Maryam Mallick ,Pakistan is signatory to the convention from 2011 but did not submit a single report about the status of disabled persons, and convention requires it to file the particular report every year.
In India on the other hand made a law in 1995 named “the person with disabilities (equal opportunities, protection of rights and full participation) Act 1995,for taking care of citizens with disabilities and revised it in compliance with UN convention after India ratified the convention in 2010.
An ordinance to provide for the employment rehabilitation and welfare of disabled persons was promulgated in December 29, 1981 named as “The Disabled Persons (employment and rehabilitation) Ordinance 1981.
This ordinance fixed the responsibilities of state towards the protection of rights of PWDs, education, employment, rehabilitation. Under this Ordinance National council for rehabilitation of Disabled person was established to formulate the policies.
Unfortunately disabled people are deprived of their rights. There are 2 pc reserved seats in federal departments as well as in provinces. Dilemma is the non- disabled persons are appointed on the seats reserved for disabled persons. Another Act named “special citizens Act” in 2008 seeks to provide the accessibity to disabled citizen in every public place this is akin to article 9 of convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, but to dismay they are unable to travel through public transport they can’t access to parks, schools, buildings shopping malls etc.
To add fuel to fire there is not a single reserved seat in Parliament despite of having normal minds like others. National policy for disabled persons was launched in a year of 2002 but has never been implemented and policy has been expired in 2007 without any implementation as there is no one in the assembly to represent them.
A bill for the amendment in constitution was presented by National assembly member Keshwar Zehra in 2013. Bill proposed the amendment of Article 51 which is related to composition of total number of seats of parliament, shall be increased from 342 to 346 enabling disabled persons to participate fully in the political affairs similarly amendment proposed to increase the senate seats from 104 as per Article 59 to 108, but it seems that this wasn’t on the priority list of legislature.
Article 25 of our constitution talks about ‘equality of citizens’ but there is a big question mark on the equal rights of 15% of the population.
The writer is a Law (Hons) Student from Punjab University Law College, Lahore Punjab and tweets @xenabsohail