Need for empowerment
Need for empowerment | Photo Credit: PERIASAMY M

The BJP’s manifesto for the ongoing UP Assembly elections announced many key promises for farmers’ income, women empowerment and quality education. The Samajwadi Party also announced a slew of measures to ensure progress and development in the State on similar lines.

It also declared the revival of its “Samajwadi Pension Yojana” promising a monthly amount of ₹1,500 to the aged, needy, women and persons with disabilities living below the poverty line. The Congress party was quick to toe the line and came with a host of measures centered around freebies, jobs and health measures and other benefits for the deprived sections.

With Uttar Pradesh constituting the highest percentage of persons with disabilities (15.5 per cent) in the country, it’s disappointing to see that they have once again been ignored in the larger scheme of things. A substantial 2.08 per cent of the total population of Uttar Pradesh amounting to around 41,57,514 people, have managed to get a promise of mere ₹1,500/month under the pension scheme along with widows, aged and the needy.

Not a vote bank?

Perhaps persons with disabilities are not considered an important “vote bank” to ensure representation in development and progressive policy changes. Even after more than three decades of the Disability Rights Movement in India, the discourse around persons with disability has not moved from charity to empowerment and equality.

The stereotypes around such people as being dependent, unaware and incapable of playing an important role in the politics have further marginalised their needs and capabilities as being active citizens of the country.

Adequate representation of persons with disabilities in politics is imperative to ensure that they have a say in policy-making. However, in the dynamic politics of Uttar Pradesh, representation of persons with disabilities is seldom seen, at the State or even local level.

Without adequate representation at decision making level, a change in the mindset of people as well as implementation of central level schemes and policies for persons with disabilities, cannot be expected.

It is further exasperating to note that the fund for persons with disabilities in the State, has been lying unused since 2018 while a large chunk of the disabled population in Uttar Pradesh has been left to fend for themselves in the aftermath of the pandemic. The State gave a dismal amount of ₹1,000 to about 11,17,314 beneficiaries with disabilities as part of a separate pension scheme for disabled; for Uttarakhand it was ₹900 to about 78,787 persons with disabilities.

While political parties play an important role in mainstreaming of important issues, the issues and concerns of persons with disability have failed to attract the attention of politicians as well as the media. This fact is quite evident from the manifestos of different political parties, released ahead of the upcoming UP Assembly polls.

The need of the hour is empowerment of every section through education, equal job opportunities as well as accessible infrastructure and technology, which the manifestos fail to chart. In place of a paltry pension amount, what is needed is a strong model for self-employment as well as other substantial economic benefits for empowering persons with disabilities, in the long run.

The political parties in their manifestoes should ideally be talking about implementation of the RPWD Act 2016 with special focus on right to education, access to infrastructure as well as information and promotion of employment for persons with disabilities.

According to the Election Commission of India there are more than 70 Lakh registered voters with disability(though the actual figure is higher). Political parties must realise that they cannot afford to ignore such a large section of the population. Mainstreaming of disability in the political discourse of the country cannot be achieved just by making elections accessible for persons with disabilities.

Real change will begin once this half-baked welfare approach is abandoned and we strive towards a more empowering and enabling environment.

However, the dichotomy of the situation is that a State as diverse as Uttar Pradesh which could have lent a voice to the disabled movement in India, has sadly failed to acknowledge its presence in the upcoming Assembly elections.

In the absence of concrete measures, these “Sankalp Patras”, remain empty promises of development and progress, both in body and spirit.

The writer is Executive Director - National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP)