Dignity versus investment

By Ishan Chauhan

I’m a patient of Cerebral Palsy. I, thanks to the back-breaking efforts and constant encouragement of my parents, have come to a point where I am semi-independent, still needing help with quite a few things, as can be imagined, but still. You, a common reader who is fortunate not to be a person with disability, or any one else for that matter, were about to be allowed to call me a demeaning name or a ‘disabled name which insults the community’, without any harsh repercussions, as per the notification released by Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities.

So essentially, any person could make a remark using a disabled slur - that’s right, there’s no harm in calling it what it is, because the phrase ‘disabled name which insults the community’, means exactly that - which goes to the very core of a disabled person’s identity and get away with it because the risk of jail is a hurdle in attracting investments – from both domestic and foreign investors – which has become more pertinent after the Covid-19 pandemic in order to revive the economy.

Is the government not giving license to the insensitive, to perpetuate hate, name-calling, and other such derogatory actions, that severely impact the mental well-being of the person, among many other more severe things?

The government therefore proposed that in order to attract investments, they would be okay with giving any person a free hand to insult a person with a disability. Which implies that such a person has no value, because if they did, it wouldn’t have been proposed. The Act says under Section 2(h) that,

“discrimination” in relation to disability, means any distinction, exclusion, restriction on the basis of disability which is the purpose or effect of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others of all human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field and includes all forms of discrimination and denial of reasonable accommodation”

So, my simple question is this. By bringing the said amendments to this law, did the government not try to legitimize the discrimination that (it is an open secret) that we face? Is it not giving license to the insensitive, to perpetuate hate, name-calling, and other such derogatory actions, that severely impact the mental well-being of the person, among many other more severe things?

The one-dimensional view taken here, with respect to the economy, shows a deep and pervasive blindness to the difficulties of being a Person with Disability in India.

From a strictly legal standpoint, Section 89, which is one of the sections that were going to be changed, stated, “Any person who contravenes any of the provisions of this Act, or of any rule made thereunder shall for first contravention be punishable with fine which may extend to ten  thousand rupees and for any subsequent contravention with fine which shall not be less than fifty thousand rupees but which may extend to five lakh rupees.”

Any person who contravenes any provision of this act’, is the phrase of particular importance - had this section been removed or watered down, it essentially would render the entire legislation toothless, and those discriminated against, without legal recourse.

At stake was the dignity of humanity, and our shared quest for equal and fair treatment.

This shows that the “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” as says the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, does not apply in cases of Persons with Disability. Because if a person who has been called ‘disabled’ slurs, they would have had to prove “mala fide intent’’ to have the abuser prosecuted. The other reason, I believe, we aren’t equal in the eyes of the government to any other person, is that insulting us, in the ways stated above, was considered a ‘minor offense’. On the other hand, when an SC or ST person is in question, then, it is a strict application of the law (as it should be) and the same in the case of women, but not persons with disabilities. Remarkable.

On the international stage, such baseless amendments show the country in a bad light, especially when the UN made recommendations last year to strengthen the legislation. The one-dimensional view taken here, with respect to the economy, shows a deep and pervasive blindness to the difficulties of being a Person with Disability in India.

There have been many joys and disappointments in the policies of this government, depending on which side of the aisle you stand. In my case, leaning heavily on my help or my walker, I am proud that this cowardly deed was criticized in a united national voice. It was a case of wilful neglect, effectively a blatant attack on persons with disabilities. At stake was the dignity of humanity, and our shared quest for equal and fair treatment. A united voice against this act of pusillanimous, back-stabbing treachery by the State, is in some sense a faint ray of hope for those who stand against a farcical democracy categorized by unilateral decision-makings of the state, where public opinion was given the importance and status it deserved. Which, it may be argued, has become, a less frequent happening in recent years.

It is apparent that there are systemic attacks on areas of vital importance with regard only to the interests of business houses, and those with the power of money behind them.

This decision to take back the proposed amendment, is in no way commendable, but is only the right thing to do. However, It is for this government to prove, yet again, that in its eagerness to play to the moneybags of the world in which, quite clearly, the investor is sovereign (and not the consumer or ‘the people’), it has not lost all moral courage, and that it recognizes the severity of the Climate Crisis that looms large and acknowledges its responsibility to protect the citizens of the country, not just the ones now, but those in the future, and rescind the proposed Environmental Impact Assessment, Rules 2020. They have been called ‘a sure shot recipe for environmental disaster’ and I might even add ‘international disgrace’ because if those rules come into force, it lends a massive blow to the 2030 SDG commitments and, show India in bad light with reference to its acceptance of well-established principles of Environmental Law, particularly the principle of intergenerational equity, which I have alluded to above, and the principle of Non-regression founded on the idea that environmental law should not be modified to the detriment of environmental protection. In its proposal to give retrospective clearance, the unashamed contravention of the country’s top court, as well as clear belief that environmental conservation is not an important endeavour- shows clearly.

It is apparent that there are systemic attacks on areas of vital importance with regard only to the interests of business houses, and those with the power of money behind them. It will be greatly unbecoming of us as citizens, to be silent sufferers when those who are our own, try to damage us and those who come after us.

(Ishan Chauhan is a music lover and an author of two collections of short stories. An anthology he has edited, should be out in the month of our independence.)