Tomorrow, 11 April, starts a marathon election, the world’s largest election, that will go on for nearly six weeks. Around 900 million Indians are entitled to vote in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It’s going to be a closely watched election and a hotly contested one.
It's also an election where disability has occupied centre stage like never before, with the Election Commission of India undertaking accessibility measures on a massive footing. Issues related to the community have also been given significant play in the manifestos of the Congress party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). We also have a disabled population that is eager to make its voice heard.
Our Story of the Week focuses on the aspirations of India's disabled community. What are their expectations from the next government? Presenting a spectrum of views from across India.
Dr Satendra Singh, Disability rights leader
Sai Baba Goud, Founder, Devnar School for Blind, Hyderabad
"The next government must prioritize employment and education of people with disabilities. Most disabled people are unable to get into pioneer institutions like IIT and IIM just because they have a disability. Even private companies and MNCs must hire disabled people and not underestimate their capabilities. They must be provided good infrastructure for personal growth and also to become tax payers of the country".
TMN Deepak, Co-founder, December 3 movement, Chennai
"Migrate from focusing on welfare of disabled people to rights of people with disabilities. Then, the perspectives itself will change. It is high time that the government really works on the RPWD Act, 2016. Employment, education and accessibility must be given priority."
Muralidharan Vishwanath, National Platform for Rights of Disabled, New Delhi
Shampa Sengupta, Disability Rights Activist, Kolkata
"Disability and poverty are interconnected issues. I hope the new government will make budgetary allocations and provisions so that all poverty alleviation schemes reach disabled people. Proper implementation of RPWD Act and MHC Act are my priorities. But first and foremost, I would like to see that not one single family will ask for mercy killing of a disabled son or daughter. Also, training of police, judiciary and protection officers on disability issues should be taken up by new government so that disabled women facing violence gets access to justice."
Mariyath CH, Youth Icon, Kerala elections
"Equal opportunities in employment and education. Most of us are stuck inside our homes due to lack of accessibility in public places. If we get to come outdoors, we can do many things. The government must look into that as well. Wheelchairs are quite expensive. Not every person can afford it, especially ones with latest technology. Since there are many disabled people from economically backward families, it is the government's duty to reduce the price of these wheelchairs."
Jomy Joseph, Disability Rights Activist, Thiruvananthapuram
Prajith Jaipal, Disability Rights Activist, Kochi
"Increase disability pension to Rs 5,000 per month. The government is willing to hike pension amount of politicians. Why do they refuse to hike for disabled people? All public places including banks and airports must be made accessible. Exclusive disabled parking at public places must be put into effect soon".
Ritika Sahni, Founder, Trinayani, Mumbai
"The first thing I would expect is for the government to truly understand the ground reality of what disabled people go through. Not just superficially, the government needs to make itself aware of the issues faced by disabled community in rural, semi-rural and urban India. Secondly, the government needs to ensure coordination within its various departments so that information and actions can be carried out smoothly across them. Lack of coordination and communication within departments is a major hurdle when it comes to working for the disabled community."
Amar Jain, Corporate Lawyer, Mumbai
Jasmina Khanna, Systems Analyst, Mumbai
"If existing policies are implemented diligently, I feel 70-80% of the problems of disabled people in India will be resolved. The RPWD Act 2016 is based on the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is sad the above principles are just on paper. For instance, the government of India has guidelines for infrastructure accessibility but nothing is being implemented at the ground level. If accessibility audit reports are shared with concerned government authorities, they do not respond. If policies are meant to be just on paper then why have them?"
Riitesh Sinha, Government employee, Karnal, Haryana
Mohammed Shams Alam Shaikh, Para swimmer, Mumbai
"Implementation of RPWD Act should be priority. There should be measures taken to counter the discrimination faced by para sportspersons in many states. The facilities and prize money given to para athletes should be on par with what is offered to non-disabled sportspersons. People with disabilities face discrimination at the ground level and lack of opportunities when it comes to education and employment opportunities. Bank loans are denied to them, this should stop. Also the disability pension across states varies which should be made equal."