Public opinion polls now play an important role in politics. Not only do these polls predict who’s going to get how many seats in the elections, these also talk about caste considerations, about inclinations of female voters, about the mood of youngsters, about urban voters, rural voters, voters from different states, voters from different age-groups etc. But never in the history of Indian politics or in the data presented by an opinion poll has one seen the presence of disabled people, their inclinations, their issues, their choices as voters.
The community of people with disabilities is not considered as a vote bank. No caste or creed discusses the challenges and needs of people with disabilities, but why? Maybe it’s an awkward topic, or perhaps they are not a strong vote bank to influence electoral outcomes. At best, people with disabilities are seen as ‘objects of charity’. Some of the issues which have historically prevented people with disabilities to play an integral part in the politics of the country are:
- People with disabilities are usually seen as liabilities, never as assets.
- Representation of the disabled community on any level is poor or next to zero.
- The only disabled Member of Parliament ever was Jaipal Reddy, who had polio.
- Being disabled has been a ground for disqualification to contest in elections on several occasions.
- Families struggle for years to obtain a disability certificate for a member. Such a process should not take more than a week.
- No political party ever selects a disabled person as an electoral candidate,. Even if a few brave souls decide to change that, there is little support.
It has to be acknowledged that there are around 40-80 million people with disabilities in the country as per a World Bank report. Add to these individuals, the caretakers who because of their proximity to people with disabilities have an understanding of disability. The people with disabilities and their families and their caretakers compose a big part of the total population. It’s time to change the narrative, so that our actions have room for change. Social stigma and discrimination are the core reasons for our failure. The blatant example of this discrimination is the fact that we have no exclusive representatives for the people with disabilities in the Parliament. We can protest all we want on the streets, but it won’t be as effective as protesting inside the House of Parliament.
Political change has to start along with social change for real change to occur in society.
How to change the state of the disabled community in the Politics of India?
- An ordinance or a bill should be passed in the Parliament, reserving a few seats for the disabled.
- When a member of the disabled community addresses the House, the whole country will listen and be inspired.
- A balanced society has room for all, and such precedents can become a ray of hope for us.
Reservation in political seats will empower the disabled community and change the perception of the ignorant populous. If a member of the disabled community becomes an active Member of Parliament, the issues and injustice faced by disabled people will see the light of day. Justice isn’t a single decision but a practice. A single amendment in Parliament can change the course of the future for the disabled community.