Javed Abidi, convenor and spokesman for the Disabled Rights Group, sounded more than a little rather annoyed, when he addressed the press conference (at the Indian Women's Press corps), the day before yesterday.
He ended the press con saying, "What do they expect us to do? Start stoning? Burning buses? Throw burning tyres... like other minority groups, who've been neglected too long? Why do minority groups have to be driven to the point that no one listens until they burn buses?"
Though I am familiar with access problems for the disabled (I am still known as the wheelchair girl, amongst the journalist fraternity in Bombay) and have written about the issue, I was surprised to learn that there are 70 million disabled people in the country.
Of course, official estimates are much lower. More like 2.19 crores or 21 million approximately. Or maybe 18 million odd, depending on which version of the NSSO surveys you choose to believe.
This time, Abidi was angry because almost ten years have passed since the law (Persons with Disabilities (equal opportunities, protection of rights and full participation) Act, 1995) was enacted and not much has been accomplished.
Apparently, there's a special bus in Delhi. But, Abidi says, "Where is this bus? On which route? Tell me - I'm dying to sit in this bus.... if only they'd reworked five buses each year, by now, we'd have had fifty different routes accessible to the disabled."
And oh, in nine long years, all of four buildings have been audited, by the concerned ministry.
The issue of disabiled rights itself has been made a prerogative of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. The weird thing is that the ministry is also responsible for appointing the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (CCPD).
Now, this office - the CCPD - has a watchdog role.
Guess who it's got to watch? Yes, the ministry of social justice...
So, Abidi is justified in saying that the chor is appointing the kotwal. "The ministry is playing games. First, for three years they failed to appoint anyone. We complained to the then Prim Minister Vajpayee. They picked up the under-secretary from the ministry and made him the CCPD."
This man, a bureaucrat, didn't do much watch-dogging, according to the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People. The conflict of interests was inherent. He was, in due course, transferred.
The next appointee was Uma Tuli, who led an NGO (Amar Jyoti) that is the direct benefiaciary of the ministry's disbursements. Conflict of interests again. One-third of her funding came from the source she was supposed to be barking at. I assume she did not do a lot of barking.
And now, the post is empty again. Oh, the ministry did advertise for the post - in the Employment News.
Abidi is very distressed about this last fact. He thinks it "demeans the dignity of the office of the CCPD... whcih has a mandate from the Parliament." (I don't think so. I think all offices, which you enter not through an exam or an election, but a selection board, should be advertised in papers, in the interest of transparency, if nothing else. But that is just my opinion.)
However, Abidi did say two very interesting things.
One - "A law won't get up and walk. a law doesn't say 'implement me'. You need people to say that."
Two - "The Prime Minister's office should have a disability advisor. Several countries in Asia-pacific do. We are a vast pool of human resource.... why make us sit on dharnas and join rallies. They are a waste of time... come out of the 'charity' approach."
He added that this was not just a welfare issue. It was a financial issue. A labour issue. A railway issue. ALL the concerned ministries should be involved.
No issue is solely a welfare issue.
All issues in this country are finance issues, labour issues, human resource issues and just about the business of every ministry on the face of Indian governance.
Unfortunately, our ministries have the passing-the-buck habit. "This subject does not come under the purview of this ministry... take your complaint to the ministry of social welfare."
A polite way of saying 'bugger off to the next department... this isn't my business'.
What I did find terribly interesting was that the NCPEDP has prepared a Shadow Report, to counter the sarkari report prepard by the ministry.
Now, this is something the opposition should be doing. In other countries, most ministers have 'shadow ministers' in the opposition. Playing watchdog is their role. And in their interest!
In India, this is left to activists and civilian groups. However, even that is a start, I'd say.
Make those shadow reports - for every ministry, every department, every official scheme.
Use these reports - distribute them to the media. Show them the other side of the mirror.
Shadow reports are a terribly good idea. In fact, if you asked me what the real story here is - I'd say it is about groups that shadow a ministry's performance on every front.
I was sent to this press con 'go check out... maybe there's a story'. To my eternal disgrace, let it be said, I came back and said 'Not yet.. let's wait until they do something more than make demands.'
Why did I do this?
Because, for one, I knew a report about shadow reports would not be carried. Not even considered a decent story.
Two, because everyone, everywhere is making demands. Almost every ministry and every government office is beseiged with 'a list of demands'. What right have I to publicize one, while I ignore others?
We're supposed to cover things that happen. And until we get to the stage that the media begins to campaign actively for new ideas (opposition shadow reports, for instance), we'll just have to wait until people DO things. Even if it amounts to wasted time, by way of a raasta roko or a bus-burning.