Just a month after it was passed by Parliament, the Right to Education (RTE) Act is set to be amended to include all categories of differently-abled children in its ambit. The move comes after an intervention by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) following protests from disabled rights groups. The HRD Ministry has conveyed its decision to amend the Act to the PMO, confirmed highly placed sources. In a climbdown from its earlier stand, it has also admitted that the Section of the Act pertaining to the “disadvantaged section” will have to be changed as it does not cover all disabled children. While the ministry was earlier planning to incorporate enabling provisions in the “Rules” to be framed for the Act, it was later felt that rules alone would not suffice in making it legally binding. Barely a week after the Act was passed, the PMO had written to the HRD Ministry, asking it to ensure that the concerns of the disabled are addressed. HRD Minister Kapil Sibal had assured, both in Parliament and more recently at the meeting of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), that all categories of disabled children would get the benefits of the RTE Act.
The RTE Act proposes free and compulsory education to all children aged between 6 to 14 years, and makes it binding on all public and private schools to reserve 25 per cent of their seats for children from “disadvantaged sections”. Section 3 states that the “disadvantaged sections” will cover children with disabilities as specified under the Persons With Disabilities Act — an Act that is not very comprehensive as it leave out several disabilities like cerebral palsy, autism and other mental disorders. As per the proposed amendment, the RTE Act will now include children also covered under the National Trust Act and any other legislations which deal with those suffering from mental as well as physical disorders. The Bill was at the centre of a row just before it was tabled in the Lok Sabha, with activists alleging that it deliberately excludes disabled children from its ambit. They claimed the Bill ignores the rights of disabled children by not providing for disabled-friendly facilities, not including “disability” within the definition of “disadvantaged sections”, and not including the mentally challenged within the definition of “disabled”. Activists had said that where the Bill defines “disability”, it takes the meaning as given in the Disability Act, 1995, which covers people with physical disabilities only.
Barely a week after the Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry managed to pass the landmark Right to Education Bill amidst protests by disabled rights groups, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is learnt to have asked the ministry to ensure that no disabled child is left out of the ambit of the legislation that promises free and compulsory education to all children aged 6-14 years. The PM’s letter comes soon after he assured disabled rights activists that their concerns would be addressed.
After being passed by Parliament last week, the landmark legislation is awaiting Presidential assent. Indications are that an amendment will be moved later to ensure that all disabilities are covered under the Bill’s definition of ‘disability’.The long-pending legislation had run into controversy when soon after its introduction in the House social activists pointed out that provisions of the Bill left almost 30 million disabled children out of its ambit. Activists said the Bill ignores the rights of disabled children by not providing for disabled-friendly facilities, by not including “disability” with the definition of “disadvantaged sections” and by not including the mentally challenged within the definition of “disabled.”
The movie My Name is Khan, starring the sparkly eyed superstar of Indian cinema, Shah Rukh Khan, has been bought by Hollywood’s Fox studio, ushering yet another merger between the East and West, and more greatly, serving to increase awareness. The character suffers from Asperger syndrome, an illness which in communities is often shunned. Yet, one of its outcomes is to produce people of exceptional intellect.
The power of cinema has never been doubted. It transports you to a world which traditionally depicts fairytale concepts, a chance to escape the humdrum realities of life. However, increasingly Indian cinema has undergone a sort of revolution, both in concept and content. Major stars have started to put their names on alternative movies which target real-life issues, increasing awareness, initiating a cultural re-analysis of illness and the challenges included with acceptance.
Rani Mukherjee’s role as a blind student in Black, and Aamir Khan in Taare Zameen Par have won critical acclaim and ushered in a change in perception. Autism spectrum disorders, specifically Asperger syndrome, was defined in the 70s as an illness affecting children, but research indicated that its presence lingers on into adulthood. Though initial interest was limited to academia, attention slowly filtered through, along with indications that physicists and mathematicians such as Paul Dirac, Albert Einstein, and Isaac Newton had some form on mild autism. Thus the question: why is this illness often dismissed as spurts of sudden madness? The simple fact is that those who suffer skills are often at odds with norms, and their mind wanders. It is through these wanderings that we have made leaps in knowledge and it is assuring that Bollywood has acknowledged the need to set facts straight.
To be truly inclusive, the Right to Education Bill must address the concerns of the rights of the disabled
IF there is one lesson that uman Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal has learnt from his predecessor, it is what Martin Luther King Jr termed “the fierce urgency of now”. Sibal’s approach to reform has been as energetic as Arjun Singh’s was staid. The 100 days within which Sibal wants to pass the landmark Right to Education Act is evidence of his fierce urgency. But if speed is the only change that the new minister has brought with him, then that would be only half the lesson learnt. For, while speedy legislation on primary education is important, it is more important that the bill reads right.
One major shortcoming in the proposed legislation is its silence on the needs of disabled children
While the 2005 version of the bill was sensitive to these concerns, the new version has dropped many of the original provisions that dealt with disability. Specifically, the disabled are now not included in the definition of “disadvantaged” children, meaning that they cannot benefit from the 25 per cent quota for the “disadvantaged” in schools, Second, the definition of “disability” in the bill only covers the physically handicapped, excluding those with mental handicap. And third, the bill does not mandate disability-friendly facilities in schools (such as ramps and special teachers). Of these three concerns, the first two are easy changes to make, without weighty financial consequences.
But the third concern — making schools across India disabledfriendly — will perhaps involve some cost. Already, estimates suggest that the financial cost of the Right to Education Bill will be between Rs 54,000 crore and Rs 73,000 crore a year. Perhaps, departmental mandarins fear the additional costs of ramps and other facilities in every single school across India. Such fears are misplaced. As disability activists point out, the money is already there: funds for the disabled have been allotted under a host of government schemes such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan and the 11th five year plan. Besides, there is the principle of inclusiveness. The bill provides for toilets for girls in every school, which obviously adds to the costs. Should we remove this facility? Of course not — even the idea seems laughable. Similarly, special facilities for the disabled must never be held hostage to possible budgetary worries (more so when such worries are imaginary). It is hoped that these provisions for the disabled once again find their way into the Right to Education Bill, before it is okayed by Parliament and the president into law.