New Delhi – As the world transitions towards Sustainable Development Goals, it is important to look into India’s readiness to include its disabled population to do the same. Persons with disabilities form the largest minority group but unfortunately this group has always remained a marginal priority.
As per Census of 2011, 2.21% of the Indian population is disabled i.e. out of the 1.21 billion population, about 26.8 million persons are ‘disabled’. These figures stand to be underestimated. The disability sector in India in general estimates that 4-5% of the population is disabled. The Planning Commission recognizes this figure as 5%. The World Bank report states that persons with disability constitute between 4-8% of India’s population.
India was one of the first countries to ratify UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2007. It includes 33 articles covering all aspects of life.
With millions of uneducated, unemployed and unattended persons with disabilities, millions of sick to be cared for, thousands of preventable deaths, is India really ready to shift towards sustainability? With our unfinished agenda of UNCRD can we think of shifting to a sustainable paradigm?
With 17 goals and 169 targets, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) explicitly include disability and persons with disabilities at 11 places. The key principle of the SDGs is to ‘leave no one behind’, i.e. ‘no goal is considered to be met unless it is met for everyone. Several UNCRPD Articles are cross-cutting in nature and need to be applied and/or considered for the implementation of every Goal and target of SDGs.
It is quite unfortunate to see that in the Draft National Indicator Framework on SDGs ignores the need of the largest minority group in a country which has recently passed one of the most landmark legislation in the form of Rights of Persons with Disability Act 2016 (RPD Act).
If we want to see India’s preparedness to include disabled in Agenda 2030 we would have to assess the synergies and convergences between SDGs and existing government schemes and programs. We would, honestly and objectively, have to review if the potential indicators/sub indicators for the goals and targets of SDGs take into account the needs of persons with disabilities as in their daily lives they face numerous challenges in accessibility to workplaces, businesses and public spaces, as well as access to education, health and sanitation facilities, transport and new technologies.
Poverty rates are much higher (SDG 1), on average, for persons with disabilities in India. Similarly, persons with disabilities are unable to afford protein every second day (SDG 2). Unsustainable agriculture practices come up as red across the region. For achieving Goal 3 India it will have to reach the value of around 0.9 for its Health Index, which includes health status of population, quality of healthcare institutions and financial instruments for access to healthcare (insurance, etc.). But healthcare accessibility of persons with disabilities is negligible even in the developed areas of the country. They are deprived of healthcare insurance facilities. Mental disorders and psychosocial disability are among the greatest global health challenges and yet are largely ignored in international development strategies. Unfortunately mental disorders and psychosocial disabilities remain under-financed, in both government spending and development aid. Health outcomes of the population are closely linked to various other goals like availability of food, clean drinking water and healthy and hygienic environment.
As far inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all is concerned (Goal 4), children with disability are mostly at a disadvantaged position. India’s educational institutions do not match world standards. They are not fully inclusive. Most of them lack disability-friendly infrastructure, training educators to take care of special needs of individuals. The most marginalised and vulnerable are not brought under the ambit of mainstream education schemes. Even the skilling that is done does not match the labour market demand.
We face major challenge while ensuring achievement of gender equality (Goal 5). Women and girls with disabilities always remain on the margins of our society. For instance, you can visit any village and ask woman with disability she would tell you the limitations in access to sexual and reproductive health services. Women with disabilities remain the victims of sexual abuse, violence and exploitation.
Girls and women with disabilities do not have access to adequate water and sanitation facilities (Goal 6). Absence of clean and hygienic sanitary conditions can cause various health hazards and secondary disabilities.
Youth with disabilities whether in rural and urban areas are still not able to get gainful employment opportunities (Goal 8). Rural and urban areas have different factors contributing to their employment. But government and service-planning organizations have failed to account for such differences when creating programs aimed at livelihood development.
Buildings, public transport and information and communication technology still remain inaccessible for persons with disabilities (Goal 9 and 11). By 2030 we have to ensure access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons but Accessible India Campaign, launched in 2015 has proved to be massive failure. There is no disaster management policy for disabled in India.
Disabled in India confront inequality of every kind (Goal 10). Inequality in income, inequality in educational attainment, health status, employment, access to food, access to water, access to social security and in general access to opportunities and choices. Sadly we still are unable to eliminate discriminatory laws, policies and practices and promoting appropriate legislation, policies and actions in this regard.
How can we promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels when persons with disabilities, particularly women and girls, are underrepresented in decision-making and political participation (Goal 16)? Not only this, they are not yet sufficiently included in the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the SDGs.
For sustainable development and strengthening means of implementation, high quality, timely and reliable data is a prerequisite (Goal 17). But does India have such a data regarding disability? Rather there is a staggering dearth of accurate and comparable data on disability.
Thus shepherding the achievements concerning the Agenda 2030 is a Herculean task that would require involvement of every sector and each level of society. To advance inclusive development for all we would need concrete action in four areas:
1) Addressing fundamental barriers causing exclusion of persons with disabilities, including discriminatory laws and policies, negative attitudes, stigma and discrimination;
2) Mainstreaming disability in SDG implementation;
3) Investing in monitoring and evaluation of progress towards the SDGs for disabled; and
4) Bolstering the means of implementation of the SDGs for persons with disabilities in the areas of capacity building, technology, finance, policy and institutional coherence, and multi-stakeholders partnerships.