Adhikaar - Advocating Rights of Disabled
Swabhiman commenced in 2000 with the idea that more than the paltry disability pension, people need information. With the right information in hand, at the right time, they can avail all the opportunities provided by the government – be it the pension, scholarship, houses, assistive devices or concessions. Swabhiman started providing information to anyone who needed it. As more people became empowered with information, they were conscious about the violation of their rights. Thus, Swabhiman initiated a process of influencing public policies, attitudes of both government and civil society and motivating the disabled to raise their voices. This was the precursor of setting up a network of like-minded persons with disabilities, NGOs and parents Odisha State Disability Network (OSdN). All the learnings from National Disability Network (NDN), founded by Javed Abidi, was put to practice in OSdN and in a matter of time, it was a force to reckon with in Odisha in serving as an advocacy fulcrum that mobilized parents and Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) against human rights violations and held the state accountable.
on the Road of Advocacy.
There were no laws in India in 1987 to protect the rights of the disabled. When Dr Sruti Mohapatra lost her job, she had no laws to protect it. When she was being disqualified because of her disability, there were no anti-discrimination laws to help her build her case. She learnt in training in New York that tireless advocacy at the grassroots level and determined community-wide education would prove to be essential agents for meaningful change. And back home, she started writing letters and raising issues. At one time, when Dr Sruti was in the secretariat, one of the section officers came to her and asked, “Madam, we have three huge folders full of your letters, how many more are you going to pen?” Every time she went out of the country, she returned and shared the happenings at the national and international level with the secretary of Women & Child Department (WCD) where disability was parked. Anything she read, she wrote to concerned officers enquiring about how many disabled were benefitting. The standard response was, “Please write to your concerned department.” And today each of these departments have to have a nodal officer disability, appoint 4% PwDs and have a component earmarked for disability.
Today, we have five strong laws (Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, National Trust Act, Rehabilitation Council of India Act, Mental Health Act and Right to Education Act), an international Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities and inclusive Sustainable Development Goals. The most powerful human rights law, our most-awaited and long pending, “Rights of Persons with Disability Act 2016 (RPwD Act 2016)” got passed as the law of the land by both the Houses of Parliament in December 2016. This landmark human rights law ensures that persons with disabilities receive the same civil rights’ protection as all other Indians. It was a game-changer. We also have the AIC, Made in India, Start Up India, Stand Up India and Skill India. Swabhiman takes great pride in that fact that Dr Sruti Mohapatra played a major role in this change from invisibility and exclusion to visibility and inclusion.
In 1995, the protest march to the Parliament gave us our first law, though weak. Sustained advocacy with right knowledge and patience, networking and awareness programs have changed the landscape of disability in Odisha & India. Then, Dr Sruti and others had gone for a budget allocation and were told that the numbers of disabled people are not known and that budget is as per numbers. Consequently, they went to Census Commission in 2000 where they were told that there is no time or money for training enumerators. Protest to burn themselves led to a meeting with the then Home Minister Rajnath Singh with Maneka Gandhi (WCD Minister), Arun Purie (Minister) and Mr Banthia (Census Commissioner) who led to a decision that disabled people will be counted. The counting was faulty, yet it was a matter of celebration as finally, disabled people were now a statistics for government–1.9%. In 2000, the visit by Stephen Hawking in India gave a big window.
Over the past two-and-a-half decades, Dr Mohapatra has been at the forefront of many pathbreaking initiatives in the advocacy of disability rights. These include rights-based laws for disabled in India, a separate department for disability in Odisha, the inclusion of disability as a separate category in the national census, making polling booths accessible, and most recently, the formation of India’s new disability rights law, the RPwD Act, 2016. For anyone who is even about 40 or older will remember a time when there were no ramps on the streets, when trains and aeroplanes were not accessible for the disabled, where there were no wheelchair-accessible bathrooms in schools, airports and shopping malls, no schools where you had a sign language interpreter, no books in audio or Braille or other kinds of supports. These things have changed, and they have aided in creating an equal platform for people with disabilities. Youth with disabilities are aspiring for greater things in life now. Achievements like these are what keeps Dr Mohapatra working relentlessly.
As an activist, the biggest problem Dr Mohapatra has to face was opening peoples' minds and changing ingrained social beliefs. There sometimes comes a point where the situation seems hopeless, where you think what you are working on is a lost cause. However, a situation is only hopeless if you don't believe in your cause—when you, as a leader, lose hope. Dr Mohapatra is constantly reassessing her values and making sure that her activities are in line with them.
Swabhiman’s Advocacy Approach Aims at
Addressing the violation of individual rights
Strengthening the capacity of NGOs and DPOs in Odisha on disability laws and rights.
Bringing about policy level changes
1. The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016–Swabhiman was a part of drafting, monitoring progress, protesting delays and unnecessary changes, lobbying with MPs, MLAs, Ministers, bringing civil society, parents and individuals together to ensure passage in both houses in December 2016.
2. For the first time in India, a minister was designated as Minister for Disability in 2009, in Odisha.
3. Designation of Disability Commissioner and notification though secretary WCD was appointed so.
4. Appointment of independent State Commissioner for PwDs in Odisha 2010.
5. Transfer of disability from WCD Department to a directorate and finally setting up of the (Social Security & Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities) SSEPD Department in 2014.
6. As a member of the National Disability Network (NDN), contributed to the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2007.
7. As a member of NDN, worked towards the inclusion of disability as a separate category in the Population Census of 2001. This was the first time that disabled people got counted in the Census. In 2011, successful groundwork led to Odisha having a higher percentage of 2.9% than the national average of 2.1% of PwDs in population.
8. Played a role in making the voting process accessible for PwDs, from 2004 to 2019.
9. As a member of NDN, contributed to the submission of Stakeholder’s Report on Disability for India’s Universal Periodic Review.
10. As a member of NDN, contributed to submitting a Parallel Report on Disability for India’s review on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
11. As a member of NDN, contributed to the submission of a Parallel Report on Disability for India’s review on the Convention of the Right of the Child (CRC).
12. Initiated the ramp culture in India in 1998 and 1999.
13. Made Odisha the only state in India to have two medical boards in a district.
14. Reservation in Panchayati Raj Schemes—Considering that poverty alleviation programs like SGSY, JGSY, SGRY, IAY and others are of vital importance to many disabled people who live in abject poverty, Swabhiman decided to write a letter (Ref. No.- SWA-03/ADV-569, Dated: 31.03.2003) to Mr S N Tripathy, Commissioner-cum-Secretary, Panchayat Raj Department, requesting him to bring about a notification whereby the district authorities would implement the 3% reservation in their respective areas. The result was Commissioner-cum-Secretary issuing order (Letter No. 3957/ GGSY-II (TSM)-33/2002/PR, Bhubaneswar dated 13.05.03) to all the collectors regarding 3% reservation in SGSY schemes, directing them to ensure 3% reservation in that scheme.
Major Achievements .
Other cases of Advocacy .
Swabhiman has also advocated for many people on an individual level. Some of these individual cases taken by Swabhiman include:
Opening bank accounts of people affected with Leprosy.
Facilitating education among Children with disabilities through providing neighbourhood schools and making schools more accessible.
Providing skill training and employment opportunities to PwDs.
Aiding in providing reasonable accommodation.
Accessible Water ATM
Contributed in reducing fraudulent cases involving PwDs
Advocating for 3% Reservation in Medical and Engineering Colleges in Odisha.