The Lok Sabha, on 4th August 2009, passed the ‘Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education’ Bill. Kapil Sibal, the HRD minister, promised that this Bill, a historic step, would be his signature reform initiative in the first 100 days of the Government.
Disability rights activists across the country feel, however, that the Bill excludes from its purview the country’s 30 million differently-abled children. Their expectation from the Right to Education Bill was very simple – make education inclusive for the differently-abled by integrating them into the mainstream schooling system. The rationale being, that the protected environment in a special school would not equip the children to face real world challenges.
The disability activists have two major areas of concern:-
- The bill has a wide definition for disadvantaged children, but does not specifically include differently-abled children; and
- The bill sets out minimum physical infrastructure requirements, but has no mention of specific infrastructure for the differently-abled
The activists led by Mr.Javed Abidi, voiced their concerns to the HRD Minister, and the prime minister, and it resulted in the UPA Convener Sonia Gandhi seeking a clarification from Mr. Sibal.
Mr. Sibal, in his speech, clarified that the disabled have not been excluded and that the Government was sensitive to their rights. In his words “In the definition about the child belonging to a disadvantaged group, when we frame the model rules we would like to ensure that all children suffering from whatever disabilities- and we will set it out in the model rules- must be part of the disadvantaged groups.” Although disability may not be a specifically mentioned in the definition, disabled children are entitled to an education as a matter of right. The obligation, he said, is on the state government to identify the disadvantaged groups within the state (this would naturally include the disabled) which require inclusive education into the system.
Sibal also noted that while the Persons With Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 (PWD Act) does not include certain disabilities like autism in the definition of disability, and this definition was referred to in the bill, the PWD Act is in the process of amendment. Once the definition is amended, a wider super-set of the disabled would benefit under both the PWD Act as well as the Bill.
The Bill, like most things, is not even close to perfect. Yet the Government’s recognition of the need to educate the disabled is indeed a significant step, and one that must be welcomed by the community. It gives the disabled a foot in the door to inclusion into society. After all, the HRD Ministry has promised: “ So we intend, as a Government, because we are committed, to provide for the disabled facilities to ensure that they too have a right to lead a full life to the extent that it is possible… That is the commitment of this Government to the Nation“.
Hopefully, the model rules will be framed through a consultation process with stakeholders and the concerns of the differently-abled will be addressed. And finally, it would be the old bugbear, implementation, which will decide on whether the Bill would indeed be what UNICEF considers a “great opportunity for India” or just another gazette notification.
Guest Blogger for Inclusive Planet
*Priyanka is a corporate lawyer working with a leading law firm, and is our first guest blogger!
Read Full Post »