The incident of rape and blinding of a minor disabled girl in Bihar’s Madhubani in mid January this year has sparked a debate on difficult lives led by persons with disability (PwD) in the state. People with disability across Bihar are demanding transparent implementation of emancipatory measures for the community with an inclusive approach.
With no dearth of laws for disabled citizens, the state’s seriousness to reach and help this suffering section of society stands questionable and futile. From the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 to Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, rules have piled up on paper, ‘Viklang’ has transformed into ‘Divyang’, but only the vocabulary seems to have changed while a substantial population with disability is rendered devoid of dignity.
The 1995 Act listed seven conditions of disability, which were blindness, low vision, leprosy cured, hearing impairment, locomotor disability, mental retardation, and mental illness. The list got upgraded from seven to 21 in the RPWD Act, 2016, that includes cerebral palsy, dwarfism, muscular dystrophy, acid attack victims, hard of hearing, speech and language disability, specific learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and chronic neurological disorders.
The RPWD Act, 2016, provides that “the appropriate Government shall ensure that the PwD enjoy the right to equality, life with dignity, and respect for his or her own integrity equally with others.” Instead of greater accessibility and barrier-free environment at government and private institutions, as mandated by law, PwDs often have complained about being scolded by government officials to state-level officers who are supposed to protect the rights of the disabled.
Bihar Chief minister Nitish Kumar in past has vocally invoked the service to physically-challenged citizens as the state’s responsibility. Nonetheless, continuous ordeal of those with physical disability at hands of government officials has been coming to the fore.
There have been attempts to badger on people with disability where they are denied basic rights like monthly disability pension, wheelchair facility, ramps at educational institutions, government buildings, bus stop, banks, special toilets at public places, recruitment of teachers and loans from bank at special interest rates, etc. As a result, many across the state are living a life of deprivation.
Dilip Ram (40) mends footwear at a roadside, sitting barely 200 metres away from state Chief Election Officer’s office in the state capital. An injury in an accident damaged his left leg three years back adding woes to his livelihood. With monthly income of only Rs 5000, his life continues with his family. Hailing from Begusarai district, Dilip has been based in Patna since 1988 but the sad part for him is being deprived from basic facilities that are supposed to be provided by the government i.e. monthly disability pension, wheelchair etc. During the recently concluded Assembly elections, he said when he went to cast his vote at Miller high school he saw the election booth devoid of wheelchairs on contrary to hefty tall claims of the government and election commission of ensuring adequate facilities for PwD voters.
As per media reports, Aurangabad based Chhotu Singh (27), another PwD, was beaten up badly by Bihar police during the ongoing agitation of TET aspirants in Gardanibagh, Patna. He said, “I was beaten up by Bihar police mercilessly despite my cry of being disabled. The police questioned my presence in the agitation as I am unable to move freely. My disability does not hinder me to register protest against injustice unleashed by the government. The incident proves the mindset that alienates me from being a beneficiary of inclusive education.”
On January 20, teachers were protesting at Gardanibagh site and were baton-charged by the police.
Chhotu has cleared Teachers Eligibility Test (TET) twice but remains empty handed in terms of employment. During each visit to the state capital, he is accompanied by his 60-year-old mother due to no availability of services for disabled citizens. He receives the paltry sum of Rs. 400 as disability pension after three months, which should have been monthly.
Vijay Kumar Ray’s anguish is grave. Despite having disability certificate and pension documents, he is unable to get the benefits. He showed his documents to Article 14 that clearly mentions his eligibility for government disability benefit. Vijay lost sensation in the right side of his body during an accident while repairing electric cable in 2015.
Vijay’s documents of disability pension
The former electrician has been running from pole to post at Motipur block office in Muzaffarpur since 2016 but he said authorities do not pay heed to his requests. He said, “My family is in acute economic crunch. Despite having necessary papers, I am not given pension benefit. My curbed mobility has become a curse for my family. It would be my request to the state government to rescue us.”
As per official data of Muzaffarpur, its 16 blocks have 25,015 PwDs including pension beneficiaries.
In East Champaran’s Mehsi, sexagenarian Suresh Bhagat is bound to beg to earn a livelihood. His wife works in households in the town as a maid servant, which barely can feed the family. A son of his works in a factory in Gujarat. According to Suresh, he lost immense money and time getting trapped by middlemen who mislead him in course of getting a pension certificate from block office. Suresh neither gets old-age pension nor is he a recipient of disability pension.
Rafiq Ansari in Darbhanga, with 50% disability in his body, too is suffering from similar agonies. He said the disability pension amount of Rs 400 was meagre and insufficient for the differently-able. “Moreover, I am exhausted after constantly writing to government officials to provide economic solutions to end my challenges. Those hailing from marginalised sections are far from receiving any sort of assistance,” Ansari said.
The beneficiaries of Bihar Disability Pension Scheme are only those who are not covered under the Centre's Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme. Under both the pension schemes, beneficiaries are supposed to get Rs 400 on a monthly basis, which seems to many a pitiful sum in comparison to Delhi’s Rs 2500 and Tamil Nadu’s Rs 2000.
Claims of Disillusionment
Organisations working for the rights of disabled have remained loud with grievances against the state commission for PwDs. Patna-based independent researcher Harsh Raj, who also heads an NGO Yogya (for rights of people with disability), remains skeptical on the reach of government policies to the targeted population. A large chunk of the disabled population is also disillusioned with government claims. Most of them are based in rural parts of the state and are deprived of pensions or complain that it is too less to make a difference in their life. They demand that the state government must immediately raise the pension amount of Rs. 400 to Rs. 2000. Bihar, in comparison to other states, fares poorly in economic support and accessibility to PwDs, said Raj.
Raj and his associates Himangshu Kumar and Manikantha Nataraj had published a report in September 2020 on “Situation Assessment of Persons with Disabilities in Bihar 2018-2020: A Review of Employment, Poverty and Welfare Policies” for the Office of the Bihar State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities.
Independent Activist Harsh Raj
During the recent state assembly polls, Raj, who himself has disability in both legs, reported a lack of wheelchairs at polling booths in Patna district and adjoining regions by writing to the Chief Electoral Officer of Bihar. Even the office of CEO was reported to be devoid of any tricycle for PwDs.
Gaya-based organisation Magadh Jan Viklang Kalyan Samiti, an NGO for the disabled, staged a protest in Sherghati block on December 24, 2020, against non-fulfilment of government policies. Disabled people proposed a set of demands that included recruitment of disabled women as scheme workers in Anganwadi, land and home to landless and marginalised disabled people. Satyendra Kumar, a member of the organisation, demanded inclusion of those with disability in the state commission for disabled citizens.
PwDs across the state are disgruntled, disillusioned and dismayed by lip service of the government, which is reflected in the paltry sum of pension amount, that too at irregular intervals, lack of tricycle, and ramps.
When NewsClick reached out to State Commissioner (disabilities), Shivajee Kumar for his comment on low pension amount and other issues, he replied as being busy with official work.
A state-level Social Welfare Department (SWD) official on condition of anonymity categorically questioned the outreach of policies for the disabled across the state. “Many do not know about the pension scheme while those who receive it, consider it to be too low from livelihood perspective. In case of the Madhubani rape incident, the disabled minor had to wait for proper medical treatment of eyes and investigating officers were found working at snail pace,” he said.
Tall claims on facilities for disabled citizens in government buildings are yet to take serious shape on ground because as per the announcement by Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi in 2017, all government schools were scheduled to have a ramp for disabled students and 28 state government buildings were supposed to have elevators and lifts with expenditure of Rs. 26 crore. But the ground reality of disability-inclusive spaces in Bihar stands contrary to government claims.
The Deputy CM also claimed that as per 2011 Census data, the disabled population in Bihar stood at 23.5 lakh, out of which 14 lakh possessed disabled certificates and rest 7 lakh were to be provided with the same.