Human Rights Law Network

Disability Rights

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“Our vision is recognition of disability as diversity, where human rights are acknowledged and respected and where there is total inclusion in all spheres of life”

                    – Rajive Raturi, Director Disability Rights Initiative

Census 2011 pegs the number of persons with disabilities in India at 26.9 million which is 2.12% of the population. A World Bank study, People with Disabilities in India: from Commitments to Outcomes 2007 states that the number of persons with disabilities in India ranges between 55 to 90 million. This wide variation in numbers reinforces the fact that a large section of the community remains invisible, not counted, not certified and consequently outside the social net.

Disability in India has a direct correlation with poverty. Disability leads to poverty and poverty causes disability. Caught in this nexus, persons with disabilities have little or no access to education, vocational training, and livelihood and employment opportunities. Unable to access welfare measures and entitlements, denied social security, treated as recipients of charity and doles and ignorance on their status as rights holders they stand marginalized with most of their human rights violated. Ill informed about the laws and unable to access the justice system completes the marginalization.  

Within this paradigm, women with disabilities, vulnerable disabilities like intellectual, developmental, multiple and psychosocial disabilities and indigent persons with disabilities face multiple levels of marginalization and exclusion based on their disability, their gender and their indigent status.

The last decade has brought rights-based advances for the disabled community in India. Post the ratification of the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007 the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act was legislated in December 2016 and the Mental Health Care Act in 2017 raising hopes and aspirations of the community.  The Mental Health Care Act now holds the promise of deeming capacity to persons with psychosocial disabilities to make decisions regarding their mental healthcare and treatment through nominated representatives and advance directives whilst the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 now includes 21 kinds of disabilities under the rights framework. This act recognizes the legal capacity of all persons with disabilities, reiterates Civil and Political rights and details procedures for their realization, requires strengthening of skill development  processes for employment  and  aims at ensuring inclusive education in all mainstream schools funded or recognized by the government. For benchmarked disabilities, enhanced reservation in public employment is to cover more disabilities which have been brought under this band, choice of special or mainstream education left to the child and parents and reservation of 5% in higher educational institutions mandated. Reservation in poverty alleviation and developmental programs stands enhanced with preference to women with disabilities. Subject to an economic criteria, which is to be prescribed,  measures  for disability pension, caregiver allowances, shelter homes for the abandoned and destitute, special measures for women with disabilities to bring up their children, free and prioritized medical treatment and free aids and appliances  are to be introduced.

With the introduction of these new legislations, persons with disabilities now  anxiously await for the paradigm shift  to happen which will ensure that the entire spectrum of disability issues such as the causes of disability, care, rehabilitation, empowerment, mainstreaming through education, employment, health care, and transportation – will now be practically resolved.

About DRI

Led by persons with disabilities themselves, the Disability Rights Initiative of HRLN is recognized as the only one of its kind in providing a comprehensive range of socio-legal support services to India’s community of persons with disabilities. Together with all HRLN Units, the Disability Rights Initiative team has built country-wide alliances with national DPOs and NGOs. We have also cemented state wise alliances with grassroots DPO movements of disabled persons. The outreach efforts of the Disability Rights Initiative have resulted in a database that captures an encyclopedic overview of the different Indian organizations working on disability. Our team is recognized as a resource base for awareness raising and utilization of the law for persons with disabilities.

What DRI does

The   Disability Rights Initiative of HRLN is at the forefront of the movement, working in solidarity with the community of persons with disabilities, their families and their supporters to realize their rights.   We work, in particular, with the movements of persons with disabilities in various states of the country through education and awareness raising on international and domestic legislations for persons with disabilities, leading  and participating in national campaigns,   supporting movements of persons with disabilities with legal services,  providing pro-bono legal aid  in judicial forums and the publication of supportive materials in Braille and other accessible formats.

DRI provides legal aid, takes up high-impact public interest litigation, provides access to the legal system and campaigns to improve facilities for persons with all types of disabilities. We engage in out-of-court advocacy and have initiated extensive work on law reform for people with disabilities.  Between 2009 and 2010 DRI organized 6 disability specific consultations to propose changes in the PWD Act of 1995 and published the report titled ‘Harmonizing laws with the UNCRPD’ which was acknowledged by the Government as the first initiative of its kind. The publication was recommended as resource material to the committee set up to draft the new disability law for the country and DRI was nominated as a member in this committee. DRI also initiated a national campaign on the ‘Right to Vote’ which was a national movement to make the election process accessible for persons with disabilities. Federations of persons with disabilities from 19 states participated in a national seminar and subsequently filed applications under the RTI Act to determine steps initiated at the state level to ensure barrier free access during the 2009 national elections. PILs were filed in the High Courts of UP, Andhra, Maharashtra and Jharkhand to fix accountability of the state governments for failing to ensure accessible elections.

DRI also initiated a national campaign on ‘Prevention of Ill treatment, torture and abuse of Persons with disabilities.’ Field research was conducted and over 123 testimonies of individuals living with disabilities from 49 locations spread across 19 states were documented and patterns of abuse identified.  A round table with Government officials, National Human Rights Commission and CSO’s was organized to create capacity amongst stakeholders to combat ill treatment and abuse and strategic litigations filed across various High Courts to fix accountability.

Main Concerns

  • Disability as a reason for discrimination and denial of reasonable accommodation.
  • Lack of education opportunities both at the primary and higher levels and lack of support in the education system.
  • Lack of skill development interfaced with market requirements, employment and livelihood opportunities, discrimination in promotions and emoluments.
  • Lack of access in the built infrastructure, transport sector, services and products, communication and documentation.
  • Denial of access to most Civil and Political rights
  • Marginalization and  discrimination faced by women with disabilities

DRI Impact

Our team has focused on mainstreaming equality for disabled people into all spheres by taking on legal cases that set precedents for equal access and to campaign, often via individual cases, for reforms to the system.

In a matter of disability discrimination by airlines the Supreme Court decision in Jeeja Ghoshvs UOI will now result in changing the entire system at airports benefitting hundreds of passengers with disabilities using airline services. Spice Jet, which had discriminated against Jeeja, was ordered to pay Rs 10 lakhs to Jeeja for the indignity and humiliation she suffered on being off loaded at Kolkata airport. Travelling by airlines will now  be non-discriminatory for passengers with disabilities  with facilities like kiosk at the entrance of the airport functioning as help desks, facilitation of the online  bookings  and check-in by making airline websites accessible, provisioning of facilities such as ambulifts, wheelchairs and  floor walkers, to the making of the security check procedures disabled friendly, to the boarding of persons with disabilities, to the in-flight  information and  projection screens being made accessible.

1.5 to 2.0 lakh Persons affected by leprosy who are newly identified annually   will now benefit   from the   development of a new programme for eradication of Leprosy. In Writ Petition Pankaj Sinhavs Union of India and ORS the Supreme Court on 3rd February, 2017 ordered the government to frame a new programme   and also formulate and adopt concrete measures for the eradication of Leprosy. This order is significant as although India claimed to have eliminated leprosy as a public health problem in 2005, it has the largest number of leprosy patients in the world and pockets of high endemicity report thousands of new cases every year.  Subsequent to the filing of this PIL in the Supreme Court the government has undertaken a massive door to door identification campaign across the country and over 320 million persons have been screened to detect fresh leprosy cases. This campaign to identify new cases of leprosy conducted in 2016 also finds prominence in the website of the World Health Organization.

Institutions for care of intellectual and psychosocial disabilities now to be monitored for institutional reform by statutory bodies, in Reena Banerjee vs UOI,  on the  prevailing pathetic conditions  and instances of ill treatment, abuse and negligence resulting in regular deaths of intellectually impaired children in  Government homes across the country,  the Supreme Court disposed the matter directing the Central Coordination Committee and the State Coordination Committees set up under the 1995  Persons with Disabilities Act   to monitor, review, coordinate   and  evaluate the implementation of the programmes and  the conditions of  the Homes  and for introducing welfare measures. Six months time was given to enable them to take necessary remedial measures. The court also   directed The Secretary of the Union of India as well as the Secretaries of the States   for Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to be personally responsible for monitoring and overseeing the progress and action taken by the Central and State Coordination Committees.

Expanding the scope to include Institutions being run for persons with psychosocial disabilities  the Supreme Court further directed the Central  and State Authorities for Mental Health Services  to inspect and evaluate the conditions of the psychiatric hospital and psychiatric nursing home and other Mental Health Service Agencies  and  to submit reports to SC registry  within six months.  Directions were also issued to the Secretaries of   Central Government and State/Union Territory  to be personally responsible for monitoring and overseeing the progress and action taken by the  Central and State Authority for Mental Health Service.

Army officers with a hundred percent dependent child with disability will now be able to seek longer tenures in cities which provide necessary rehabilitation services.  In Lt. Col. Anil Kumar Yadav v. Military Secretary Branch & Ors., SLP(C)351/2016 the Army Transfer Policy for Officer with dependant disabled children was challenged. The writ contended that a 100% disabled person requires constant attention which is no less important than ‘medical’ attention hence the officer was entitled to relief from regular transfers. The Supreme Court   issued Notice to Military Secretary Branch, Indian Army and continued stay on petitioner’s transfer.

Hundreds of hearing impaired persons in Maharashtra who were denied driving licenses will now be entitled to get them. In Mr. Amit Ashok Tribhuvan And Anr V/S Regional Transport Officer And Ors which challenges non issuance of driving licenses for hearing impaired persons in the Mumbai HC, a notification was issued by the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways directing that driving licenses to the hearing impaired applicants would  be considered, based on recommendation by AIIMS. The notification bears reference to this PIL.

124 suburban railway stations in the Mumbai railway system audited for accessibility features under directions of the Mumbai High Court. Hearing the PIL on Accessibility for persons with disabilities in the suburban railway systems the Mumbai HC passed an order on 5th October stating, “It will be appropriate if the Petitioners keep on submitting periodical reports to the Railways after completing visits for accessibility assessment. Needless to add that if any deficiencies are mentioned in the said reports, without raising any dispute, the Railways will have to take care of those deficiencies. Exhaustive report shall be submitted by the Petitioners to this Court on or before 12th January, 2017.” The audit reports have subsequently been filed in the High Court as well as the Supreme Court and is a major step forward in ensuring barrier free access to persons with disabilities in suburban railway systems. 

20 persons with psychosocial disabilities who had been chained in a religious institution were provided relief. Hearing the public interest litigation filed by Muhim, a registered social organization highlighting the appalling conditions and chaining of 20 mentally challenged patients who were kept in shackles within the precincts of a religious institution, on 18 November 2016 The Allahabad HC passed an order directing the Senior Superintendent of Police to produce the President of the institution and also directed the District Magistrate to visit the institution.  Post the Courts intervention; CCTV cameras were installed within the Dargah premises for monitoring. SHO of the concerned Police Station was directed to regularly inspect and submit a report to the District Magistrate. Directions given for placement of police personnel in plain clothes to ensure that the mentally challenged patients are not subjected to inhumane measures, local shop keepers directed to inform the police immediately in case such incidents recur and placement of warning sign ages at prominent places within the Dargah precincts to ensure that the attendants refrain from chaining or shackling the patients.

A key employment PIL achieved an order forcing Delhi University to honour the quota for disabled employees amongst lecturing staff. This challenges the practice of fulfilling the quota by recruiting disabled employees in only lower paid posts. The immediate impact was that most of the 82 college sunder the Delhi University appointed over 200 lecturers with a disability.   The longer term impact is that colleges across the country can be challenged on the basis of this decision.

The Supreme Court, in Bashiruddin Qadrivs UOI, upheld the right of a person with Cerebral Palsy to employment and ordered that necessary accommodation be provided to the concerned person. This enshrined the concept of ‘reasonable adjustment’ to ensure that any disabled person can carry out their assignment without difficulty with the provisions of accommodations that are reasonable.


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Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) is a division of the Socio-Legal Information Centre (SLIC). SLIC is a non-profit legal aid and educational organization, registered under the Registration of Societies Act, 1860, Indian Public Trust Act, 1950 and the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act, 1976.

HRLN is a division of the Socio-Legal Information Centre (SLIC). SLIC is a non-profit legal aid and educational organization, registered under the Registration of Societies Act, 1860, Indian Public Trust Act, 1950 and the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act, 1976.