The word disabled is described by the Oxford dictionary as “people having a physical or mental condition that limits their movements, senses or activities,” the imperative word being “limits”. Defying this widely accepted definition and proving that nothing can be a limitation was Ira Singhal, who secured 1st rank in the IAS cadre.
Growing up with scoliosis of the spine, that interrupts free arm movement, Singhal faced rejection after she cracked the Civil Services Examination first in 2011, when she was denied a job because of her disability.
Not one to back down, she marched on nonetheless, and topped the exam three years later. Now, there is no looking back.
Like Singhal, there are many others, who are cast aside due to their physical or mental challenges. Take for example, 23-year-old Pavitra Molugu, who is currently pursuing MPhil at the Department of History, University of Hyderabad. A gold medalist in History, visually-challenged Pavitra says that people started overlooking her disability only at the University.
During her initial months at St Francis College for Women, Begumpet, Pavitra faced resistance from her classmates. “I did not face discrimination at a very high level, but no one really saw me as a “normal” person. I was always that visually-challenged girl,” she reveals. “They wouldn’t talk, share notes or respond to anything I said,” she recalls.
With the support of her mother, from helping with notes to preparing for exams, Pavitra clinched a gold medal in graduation too.
Though Ira and Pavitra are exceptions, resistance towards disability is common.
Explaining why people develop resistance, Dr Jayanti, a psychologist at Roshni Counselling Centre, says, “Some people shun those with disabilities because they know they cannot do anything about it. But deep inside they want to help. For some, it takes a toll on their own life too, because a lot of energy and time needs to be invested in understanding the mental state of those with disabilities. They have to go far beyond their comfort zone and they don’t have the time or the will to do it. And then the feeling of relief – I’m glad that it is not me. So, reject.”
She also adds that people do not want to see anything that isn’t a pretty sight. “They don’t want the ‘disabled’ images to stay in their mind and hence keep away. We need to focus on the human being rather than the disability,” she stresses.
What we need to know?
■ The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, May 2015 defines disabled as, persons with long term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment which hinder their full and effective participation in society equally with others
■ The Committee behind the Bill also suggests that the word disabled is disparaging. Persons with the Different Abilities or The Rights of Persons with Special Abilities or The Rights of the Differently Able persons has been considered progressive and encouraging. This will also help correct the discourse about disabled people besides reducing their psychological complexes
■ The UNCRPD defines discrimination on the basis of disability as any distinction, exclusion or restriction which has the purpose or effect of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal basis with others.
Depriving them of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.
State of Affairs
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) states that no individual must be discriminated on the grounds of disability. Children specifically should enjoy human and fundamental rights on an equal basis with other children.
And, leading schools in the city present an optimistic picture and assert that they are receptive towards children with disabilities. “Even though we do not have a reserved number of seats for children with disabilities, we do have children with dyslexia studying in our school. They weren’t treated any differently or discriminated against. But we give them certain privileges – more time during exams and classes, special attention, overlooking spelling mistakes and so on,” explains Maya Sukumaran, principal of Gitanjali School, Begumpet
Same goes with one of the oldest schools in the city, Hyderabad Public School. “Being physically and mentally disabled was never the criteria for admissions in our school. We select by students by drawing lots. If parents of differently-abled children approach us, we never deny admission. We have trained teachers, special educators and in-house counsellors working in tandem with children. We have children with difficulties like dyslexia and hyper activity disorder. We also counsel parents,” says Ramandeep Kaur Samra, principal.
(This story is the first in the two-part series on Redefining ability: Promoting Human Rights of Women with Disabilties, Asmita Media Projects 2015 – Asmita Resource Centre for Women, Hyderabad )