In a landmark judgement, Justice P Sathasivam, the chief justice of India, ruled that within a span of three months, all vacancies meant for the disabled had to be filled through a special recruitment drive. The 3 per cent job reservation meant for specially-abled people, denied for years together, had to be implemented by all governments, statutory bodies, institutions and companies.
Till now, the attitude of the government, as well as a large section of people, has been a major deterrent in enabling the disabled to enjoy rights to equal opportunities that the United Nations and governments across the world had been pursuing so vigorously.
The word handicapped emerged from the words ‘cap-in-hand’. This signifies people who are known to be physically disabled and were known to move around with a cap-in-hand. The cap refers to something like a begging bowl. In the past, people who were known to be physically disabled had to lead a life full of indignation, inhuman suffering and solitude. The advent of modernity provided more lip service rather than introducing any ostensible change.
A few examples may well prove how disabled persons continue to remain insulted and ignored in spite of juridical support to provide equal opportunities as enshrined in the Constitution.
Recently, there were reports that a teacher who had been serving for about 25 years in an educational institution had not been given any of the claims due to him by virtue of his 100 per cent disability like a job in the reserved quota for differently-abled, annual financial assistance from the UGC and a monthly conveyance allowance approved by the state government. Worse still, even the advisory dispatched by the Hon’ble Chancellor of state universities was ignored by the Authority of the said academic institution. The Vice-Chancellor of the said institution was known to have told the concerned teacher that they would not provide any job reservation meant for the disabled in spite of no less than 6 letters from different departments of the government.
The indifference of the Vice-Chancellor is not something exceptional as regards preferential treatment to a disabled. Kamala Das, a very sincere teacher who had been working in a government-affiliated school suddenly lost her vision in the midst of her teaching career. In spite of adequate legal safeguard, she had to face the wrath of the school authority so much so that ultimately, she was dismissed from service. With 100 per cent blindness, she had to move from pillar to post for years together until she was able to get back her job just prior to retirement. In this case, apart from the school authority, a section of the teaching community also went all out clamouring for her dismissal.
Ananya Chattopadhyay, an Assistant Professor of Bengali who had been serving in a remote college in West Bengal applied for a posting near her residence in Kolkata. On the day of the interview, she appealed to all the candidates who had assembled for the interview to let her get a berth in any of the colleges in Kolkata as she is 100 per cent orthopaedically handicapped and needs a wheelchair for movement. But strangely, none of the candidates showed any inclination to respond positively to her plea.
When this is the social and ethical outlook of the society, can the recent order which tried to ensure 3 per cent job reservation for the disabled within a maximum time-frame of three months deliver the desired result?
But then, what does the order say?
The Supreme Court on 7 October directed the Centre and all state governments to provide three per cent job reservation to disabled. The SC bench clarified that the principle of not exceeding more than 50 per cent reservation would not be applicable while granting quota for disabled persons. The bench said it is an “alarming reality” that disabled persons are not getting jobs because of various social barriers. It said the government has “categorical obligation” to protect the rights of disabled persons.
According to Mita Banerjee, the Commissioner of Disabilities in West Bengal, about 80 per cent of organisations do abide by rules in support of the disabled. The problem lies with the remaining 20 per cent, who prefer to ignore them either due to ignorance or arrogance. According to PK Pincha, the Chief Commissioner of Disabilities in India, no disabled should give up his/ her right to gain the provisions made available with regard to disability welfare. But some people think that such a right-conscious disabled is more conscious of his right rather than duty. This makes the disabled remain at the mercy of people who are at the helm of affairs.
The writer is Associate Professor of Sociology, Presidency University.