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'Divine-bodied' Disabled

Access to education and the labour market is abysmal among India's disabled.

In May this year India’s 2.68 crore persons with disabilities who constitute 2.21% of the total population (rights organisations put the estimate at 5%) got a new nomenclature. Henceforth, they were to be described as divyang (divine-bodied) rather than the hitherto viklang (disabled). The protests that followed said that the disabled wanted an enabling environment, not a new description. However, fulfilment of that demand would entail not only access to education and work skills but also jobs. The minister for social justice and empowerment admitted in the Lok Sabha in May that employment of persons with disabilities (PWD) has been “far less” than the specified 3% reservation in all categories of government jobs in the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act. In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court said that there is hardly any representation of disabled persons in the higher governmental hierarchy even though certain posts have been identified as suitable for them. This state of affairs ties in with the oft-repeated complaint by disability rights activists that the disabled are either not recruited at all or are expected to be grateful for employment in low-paying, lower grade jobs.

Over the years, the private sector has shown an increasing willingness to employ the disabled though it is nowhere close to what is needed. Some hospitality and retail chains along with information technology (IT) and knowledge companies have been proactive in training and employing disabled youth. The live registers of employment exchanges and special cells have an inordinately large number of the disabled looking for jobs though reliable data as to how many are actually employed is hard to come by. The International Labour Organization (ILO) report says that the employment rates vary with geographical location, gender, education and type of disability with the rural and women disabled bearing the brunt of low access to education and health services as well as vocational training and the labour market. It points out that “lower labour market participation is one of the main pathways through which disability leads to poverty.”

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