In a side event at the Conference of State Parties to the Convention of People with Disabilities (2018), sponsored by the permanent mission of India to United Nations, the Secretary of Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities rephrased a crucial question concerning the Right to Life of persons with disabilities as depending on the autonomy of the woman.
VoSAP (Voice of Specially Abled People) organized the side event entitled “Individual Social Responsibility to create Inclusive world for persons with disabilities”. VoSAP is a community of passionate volunteers who come together to create an inclusive society through simple and practical efforts. The event focused on the operational model of the VoSAP, which is based on a mobile app. This app contains features, which enable and bring together a community of people to create a mass movement for bringing about concrete change like improving accessibility, addressing issues of abuse, driving policy related changes, etc. One good example of this is how a group of volunteers in Gujarat came together and raised funds to build a ramp in a temple to make it accessible for people with locomotor disability. The ramp makes it easier for those in wheelchairs and crutches to get to the worship site. The app has features, which maps buildings that are accessible for persons with disability. This waym people in their local communities can mark the existing resources by clicking a picture of the building and tagging it to the map while simultaneously making new spaces accessible.
Everything seemed perfect and hopeful until the Q&A session which ripped apart the hypocrisy of Ms.Shakuntala Gamlin, the Secretary of the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities. In answer to a question about how the PCPNDT Act (Pre Conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic Act), Ms. Gamlin distorted the question to be related to women’s choice. The PCPNDT Act is incompatible with the current Rights of Persons with disabilities Act in fostering individual responsibility to create inclusive society.
PCPNDT Act proposes to fight sex-selective abortions, but in fact is designed to legitimize pre-natal screening for a range of genetic and chromosomal disabilities and to make it possible to eliminate children in the womb with disabilities. When the panel left it to Ms.Gamlin to comment about the conflicting laws she said: “To answer your question on early intervention and the autonomy of the mother to bring the child…” Let’s pause here for a moment. The question was not about women’s choice. But Ms.Gamlin’s distortion of the question and rephrasing of it to bring the ‘choice’ ideology into the discussion is deceptive. To do so in the forum for people with disabilities, sitting next a disabled person and addressing the crowd which included disabled people, is an insult to the whole community.
With the increasing incidence of cases in India of attacks against people with psycho social disabilities, children killed on accounts of disability, incidences where families go to court for aborting the child past legal abortion limit only on the account of disability, and parents approaching local authorities to euthanize their children with disability, it is crucial to address the root cause of discrimination and crimes against disabled people. Especially in India with the presence of eugenic laws like PCPNDT, which promotes utilitarianism and ableist philosophy, it is essential to get to the roots the discrimination.
To let another person decide if a child with disability has the right to life is not ‘inclusivity’. It is ableism. To have systems that target disabled children in the womb and wipe them out is not ‘inclusivity.’ It is eugenics. Trying to avoid them by social reengineering and if they escape those systems and happen to be alive then simply shutting them up with education and accessibility is not ‘inclusivity’. People with disabilities should be welcomed, cherished, and celebrated. Medicine, science, and technology need to enhance the quality of life of people with disabilities. Whether it is inside the womb or outside the womb.
The right to life of an unborn child with disability does not depend on the women’s autonomy. To say otherwise is absolute tyranny. This right to life is affirmed by article 10 of Convention on Rights of Persons with disabilities. Any law that aims at protecting people with disabilities but does not take into account article 10 of CRPD is simply contradictory and invalid.