Progressive legislation is believed to be the ‘end goal’ of a movement. In reality, however, it is often another hurdle crossed—although significant—in the journey towards creating a more just society. The Delhi High Court recently highlighted this distance between the goals of a legislation and its practice in everyday life in a case brought against itself. A man applied for a job in the Delhi Judicial Services under the provisions of the Rights of Persons With Disabilities Act. As per the Act, two vacancies were reserved for persons with disabilities that included autism and mental illness among others.
The applicant had been diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder. He cleared an entry test and attended the interview but was rejected on the grounds that the document certifying that the percentage of his disability was 45%, mentioned that his condition was likely to improve. If his condition could improve, he was not permanently disabled and so would not qualify for the reservation, was the argument.
Holding that this view was not valid, the court noted that the real reason for rejecting the petitioner had been revealed in the respondent’s counter, which suggested that, in fact, the condition of the petitioner was too severe to cope with the stress of the job. The court rightly pointed out that mental illness is a life-long condition that may fall into remission but is not ‘curable’. So the petitioner’s disability could not be dismissed as temporary. At the same time, given that Parliament had passed a law reserving jobs for persons with disability, including those with mental illness, it was not for the respondent to deny reservation based on their opinions or beliefs, the court said.
The case and the verdict are reminders that society remains prejudiced against persons with mental illness, with both a tendency to trivialise their condition while also using it as grounds to deny them fair opportunities. This reveals, yet again, that legislation is not the end goal. The government’s role does not end with merely passing laws. It must work with civil society to ensure that such laws are implemented in their truest spirit. It must ensure those progressive values seep into society and become accepted as the norm.