I have got a bad habit of watching news first thing in the morning ,most of the time there is always one bad news which causes stress for the rest of the day, last year on doctor’s advice I have stopped watching news and talk shows to avoid stress, for a change few week ago I tuned a news channel which was showing a protest of the people with disabilities, who were demanding from Balochistan government to ensure implementation of quota in government services and few other demands and in few minutes Police started manhandling the protesters to clear the route for a government official. The disabled persons have been protesting for five months to press the authorities for acceptance of their demands but none of their demands are met.
This was not the first incident, in December 2014 and 2016 on International day of people with disabilities a group of blind protesters who were protesting to increase job quota for them in government institutions were brutally manhandled by Punjab Police.
When I tried to find some statistics of people with disabilities in Pakistan I got surprised after finding out that the last census in Pakistan was conducted in 1998 after a gap of 16 years. Holding census is a constitutional requirement which is not being met. In March 2015 Prime Minister of Pakistan with the consent of four provinces announced country’s sixth census to be held in March 2016, unfortunately it has not been conducted to date. Now Federal Government is willing to carry out census in March 2017. If the government does not have the statistics of people with disabilities the budgetary allocations will always be wrong. So, the first hindrance that persons with disabilities encounter is statistics.
It took me some time to find an institution who can provide statistics, after putting some efforts I managed to contact Helping Hand for Relief and Development a private NGO who produced a detailed report about the People with disabilities Statistics in Pakistan.
According to 1998 census Pakistan had 3.28 million people with disabilities. According to Helping Hand’s report of 2012 population of PWDs in Pakistan was 5.035 million, which is more than the population of any of the individual countries population of Norway, New Zealand, Lebanon or Kuwait. From within Pakistan, PWDs population is more than the combined population of three cities i.e. Multan, Hyderabad and Peshawar. It is estimated that around 1.4 million are the children of school going age including 0.6 million girls.
The data incorporated in publication at district, provincial and national level should’ve facilitated the researchers, policy makers, planners, government departments and welfare organizations. It should’ve helped the governments to address the issues and vulnerabilities of PWDs but after witnessing protests in Quetta and Lahore subsequently I believe provincial governments have wasted the efforts of Helping Hands.
Disabled Persons’ Employment and Rehabilitation Ordinance initially promulgated in 1981. The declaration established responsibility of the State toward the prevention of disabilities, protection of rights of persons with disabilities and provision of medical care, education, training, employment, and rehabilitation to the persons with disabilities.
The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006. Pakistan became the 101st country to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities when former President Asif Ali Zardari signed the Instrument of Ratification on UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in September 2008.In 2009 PPP government took some measures by launching special CNIC scheme for the special persons. The main purpose was to identify special people throughout the country and provide them facilities.
Special Citizens Act, 2008 seeks to provide the accessibility to disabled citizens at every public place, with regard to allocation of seats in public transports, provision of facilities on footpaths for wheelchairs and blind persons. Similarly, while crossing the roads special citizens must be given priority. Under this act, government shall make the concerned authorities bound, before the construction of buildings in public or private sectors particularly in Educational Institutions, Banks, Hospitals, Shopping Malls, Police Stations, Airports, Railway Stations, Bus Stops, Hotels and at every public place to provide the facility of access of wheelchairs. After the 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2011, the provincial governments have been empowered to take further initiatives.
We cannot force the governments but we can at least raise awareness through different means, social media can play an important role to educate people. Our overall cultural apprehensiveness on how we treat and interact with disability is questionable, let the change begin at primary level. Let us educate our children from young age to respect without discrimination. Let us educate people to stop calling them with ugly names certain terms that were once considered politically correct are now offensive. The terms “retarded” was once considered correct, as so many people use in impertinent fashion but not any longer. We need to celebrate our co-equals for their differences. As a society, we have the responsibility to promote the inclusion of our differences. When interacting with someone with a disability, we can be respectful in both our words and actions. It may be easier to understand how to interact with people who have disabilities if we imagine having a disability ourselves. Think about how we would want people to talk to or treat us?
Let us discourage discrimination and create a more tolerant world.