NEW DELHI: December 13, 2016 marked the tenth anniversary of the adoption of United Nations Convention on Rights of the Persons with Disability (CRPD) and its Optional Protocol (OP) at the General Assembly, New York, as the first comprehensive human rights treaty of the 21st century.

The Convention follows decades of work by United Nations to change attitudes and approaches to persons with disabilities. It takes to a new height the movement from viewing persons with disabilities as “objects” of charity, medical treatment and social protection towards viewing persons with disabilities as “subjects” with rights, who are capable of claiming those rights and making decisions for their lives based on their free and informed consent as well as being active members of society. A total of 172 countries including North Korea has ratified the treaty.

Even though India signed the agreement on March 30, 2007, and ratified it on October 1, 2007, it has not yet been passed by the Parliament and is pending since it was first introduced in the Rajya Sabha on February 7, 2014 by the then Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Mallikarjun Kharge.

The present Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thaawarchand Gehlot informed that 119 amendments shall be brought into Rights of Persons with Disability Bill which was tabled by the UPA II; the final Persons with Disability Bill shall replace the current Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995.

The 2014 Bill had raised the number of disabilities from seven to 19, including previously ignored conditions like cerebral palsy, haemophilia, autism and thalassaemia and the current Bill moves on to increase the number to 21 by adding disabilities arising from acid attacks and Parkinson’s disease.

The Bill also grants the Centre power to recognise any other condition as a disability in future and provide every disabled person with a Unique Disability Identity Card (UDIC).

Various rights groups and NGOs have organised rallies in state capitals and in Delhi demanding a faster passage. Around 600 people had participated in one such protest at Bhuwaneshwar on December 12 demanding the Bill be passed “in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday and in Lok Sabha on Friday.”

A functionary of Shishu Sarothi, a disability rights activist based in Assam said that people with disabilities have waited long for the Bill to get due approval: “The 1995 law is not in conformity with the UNCRPD and India being a signatory to the Convention, has an international obligation to comply with the provisions of the Convention. We have been waiting for the Bill to be approved.”

He added that for the past nine years, the need to have a rights-based legislation with a strong institutional mechanism reflecting the rights and principles as envisaged in the Convention was strongly felt. The ongoing disruptions in the Parliament on the issue of demonetization had activists worried that washout of the winter session shall see the Bill being sidelined again, however, the opposition leader from Congress, Sonia Gandhi has promised that the Opposition shall ensure a smooth passage of the Bill in both the Houses of the Parliament.

Experts agree that the legislation is a progressive step and an important milestone in disability rights movement in India, but have expressed concerns regarding the reservation policy and its implementation; the Bill increases the number of disabilities from seven to 21 but quota for Persons with Disability (PwD) in various areas has been raised from three to four per cent only.

Implementation of the Bill with due seriousness is another prospect concerning the affected people. Discrimination and stigma are rampant in the country where 40-60 million people are affected with mental and physical disabilities. In a country where social standing—including through marriage—is crucial, having a disability often means being relegated to the bottom of the pile.

Pooja Sharma, a blind research scholar of Slavonic Studies in JNU anguished: “As disabled people, we are endlessly buffeted by circumstances beyond our control. An enlightened legislation, which recognises the rights of individuals and responsibilities of a civilised society demands a nuanced understanding of complex issues. Given a chance, I’d like to say to every individual: society needs its disabled people.”