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The Plight Of Persons With Disabilities And Lack Of Policy Implementation

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Ayaz Khan writes about the various pieces of legislation done to improve the conditions of persons with disabilities which are yet to be implemented in letter and spirit and how media can help bridge the gap between this ‘statistically marginalised’ community and stakeholders. 

In his book, ‘The Making of Pakistan: A study in Nationalism’, historian Khursheed Kamal Aziz, popularly known as KK Aziz, argues that the Aligarh Movement, led by prominent Muslim scholar Sir Sayyed Ahmed Khan, was the first step towards the awakening of Muslims of the Subcontinent towards nationalism. In the detailed account given by the author, there remains a nuance that should be considered and dealt as part of history.

The Two Nation Theory which makes genesis of Pakistani nationalism has a deep statistical factor too, primarily based on reservations related to economic deterioration of the community. Sir Sayyed’s denial of Hindus and Muslims coexisting as one nation was embedded in the fact that Muslims, even after freedom, would remain subservient to a Hindu majority. On statistical bases, too, Sir Sayyed rejected any parliamentary form of government given that the underrepresentation of Muslims in such a system had a predestined dominance by the majority.

Interestingly, after putting the statistical theory of Sir Sayyed in today’s Pakistan, the test results yielded might depict a similar fear for the communities underrepresented numerically, as were the Muslims of colonial era. Pakistan is a Muslim majority country with a minority making more or less 15 % of the total population. Similarly, within the 15 % minority population, there is another ‘statistically’-marginalised community of people with disabilities (PWDs). The community makes 2.5% of total population as enumerated during the census of 1998. However, the 6th census, conducted in 2017, claims that population of PWDs is one million. Unfortunately, apart from being socially stigmatized and stereotyped, it’s the ‘statistical revenge’ of democracy that keeps the people with disabilities (PWDs) at the receiving end in the democratic system. Along with the issues of accessibility in public and private work, health and educational places, political participation for people with disabilities has not been in sight so far.

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Despite being ‘statistically’ marginalised and facing social exclusion, the community has forged its way ahead and made its voice heard in political and social circles. Sindh government’s Provincial Motor Vehicles Bill 2019 is the outcome of efforts of the community committed to bringing social and political reforms according to the need of PWDs.

The law will allow hearing-impaired persons to acquire driving licenses. However, still a vacuum remains unfulfilled as the laws enacted so far are yet to be implemented in letter and spirit. Pakistan came up with the first ordinance in 1981. The Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance, 1981, was the first constitutional move to facilitate the PWDs. Under the ordinance, 1 % job quota was also approved for PWDs.

General Musharraf’s government seemed more serious in terms of facilitating PWDs through the legal framework. In 2002, National Policy for Persons with Disabilities was announced. The vision of the policy was to make an inclusive space for persons with disabilities so they can avail economic opportunities. The policy assured to slash any form of discrimination against persons with disabilities.

Likewise, in the same decade Pakistan became a signatory of United Nations ‘Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2006’. This led to the National Plan of Action (NPA) for Persons with Disabilities. In fact, NPA was a step forward to operationalise the National Policy (2002). Thus, under NPA, integrated efforts were made to achieve all the targets included in the National Policy.

The NPA initiated both short and long-term steps. The short-term steps, most importantly, included establishment of the data bank. Other short-term steps ranged from a sample survey of people with disabilities to employment and provision of legislative support. The long-term steps, on the other hand, were to create an impediment-free physical environment for PWDs in all public and private buildings. Moreover, The Citizen’s Act (2008) assured infrastructural accessibility for PWDs in all public and private buildings. The act also emphasized on having accessible transportation for PWDs.

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Despite having numerous laws and policies for PWDs in Pakistan, the situation on the ground still delineates a pathetic picture. Though the job quota for PWDs has been increased, yet the disabled youth are unemployed. This shows a lack of policy implementation. This gap can only be filled through impartial media coverage of the issues faced by PWDs. The media-language discourse with respect to reporting PWDs has drastically changed owing to the efforts of NGOs like NOWPDP. In the cut-throat competition of breaking news, the media-medical model is adopted which tends to focus on disability.

To humanise the news, media dangles between heroic or pity model of reporting. Instead of adopting heroic or pity model, media needs to have an ethical guide to cover issues related to PWDs. This is only possible with developing a comprehensive guide based on understanding psychology and the ‘human condition’ when covering PWDs.

Media’s biased reporting has been reinforcing and embedding stereotypes rather than bridging the gap between the ‘statistically marginalised’ community and stakeholders. Such media attitude results in a knowledge gap. The gap, in return, widens the polarisation and stakeholders remain unaware of the needs of the PWDs. If all democratic institutions including the ‘fourth pillar’ have failed to benefit a statistically small community, it raises two worth answering questions.

First, is it the failure of democracy where a majority-minority aspect benefits the majority? Second, does the ‘statistical’ aspect of parliamentary system, as feared by Sir Sayyed, keeps taking ‘democratic revenge’ on the ‘statistically marginalised’?

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