Para Athletes Shameful Treatment: Does India Care?

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The 15th National Para-Athletic Championships drew attention of country after the media outcry for the filth and apathy greet of athletes.

The nation is appalled and deeply saddened with the gross apathy and negligence shown by organizers of the 15th National Para-Athletic Championship held at Ghaziabad. Leave alone ramps and other friendly facilities required by any person with disability the participating athletes were even deprived of the minimum facilities expected at any national sports event/meet. The athletes were put up in unfurnished and unhygienic accommodations with dirty toilets without water, showers and fans with such endured conditions that even the able-bodied humans would find hard to tackle.

These athletes had fought a lot of hardships with pain and came to win medals after facing all odds, so that cash prize offered as reward by the respective state government would be put to use for further training and purchase of better equipment but the attitude and behavior of the organizers have already marred their hopes and chances. This event was also important for them since the victory of this event would ensure their participations in the upcoming Para-games that would be held in May in Delhi. The event would also increase their chances of getting a much coveted spot in the Paralympic Games in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

However, pathetically the organizers have failed to even provide for the basic norms that need to be maintained in terms of boarding, lodging and other facilities to athletes participating in national championships and the worst part is that when our disabled athletes suffered and struggled our Sports minister was enjoying a film awards festival. However, the Sports minister is not someone who would be bothered with this unless as there is nothing in it.

But the prime question under consideration is that whether the athletes have ever faced similar humiliation before? Unfortunately the answer is in affirmative.

The issue which surprises us is that before the media started the coverage, why was there no objection or outrage from the side of athletes who were suffering in human conditions? Probably because they knew that nobody understands and bothers! Or because they knew that they are living in one of the most unfriendly countries for people with disabilities in the world.

However, since the treatment being met by the athletes has come to light hue & cry and empathy is being created over in these two days event, but why there is so hue & cry and empathy over these two days event when we, ourselves as a citizen, do not consider the differently-abled as a part of our society. Despite a 1995 legislation that secures the rights of the disabled, India is accused of having a welfare-based approach rather than a rights-based approach to the whole problem. We always forget that it is not charity but the basic human rights that these athletes and differently-abled persons expect from their government and society.

In our country, it is hardly a surprise that the disabled remains cheated of their fundamental rights. According to Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act of 1995 all public institutions must provide access to the physically challenged but sadly very few follow it. Movie halls, banquets, bazaars, government buildings, doctor clinics, schools, colleges nothing is disabled friendly.

We always conveniently choose to forget that Rights of the disabled are human rights and we as a collective society need to fight for their rights so that they can perform with dignity in all spheres of life. Although our constitution expressly talks about the right to equality (Article 14), right to non-discrimination (Article 15) and the right to life (Article 21), it is disheartening to see that they are yet discriminated and separated from the mainstream society.

Indian courts have routinely upheld the rights of persons with disability. It has been specially recognized by the Supreme Court that the “right to life” as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution includes right to dignity including basic necessities.

In the case of Chiranjit Lal v. Union of India it was held that different classes or sections of people often require separate treatment based on their varying needs. If persons with disabilities are unable to enjoy their rights and the fundamental freedoms guaranteed to them on par with other persons by reason of their disability, then it is the obligation of the State to provide them with differential treatment in order that they are brought to the same level as that of other citizens and are thus able to enjoy their rights and freedoms on an equal basis.

Article 14 imposes Constitutional obligation on the State to take affirmative action to grant equal protection to unequals to ensure equal opportunity to all   persons including disabled persons. An additional facilities and opportunities which may not be provided for other persons would not be invalid on the ground of discrimination if it is in aid of all persons attaining equality.

If State fails to enact laws for empowerment of disabled persons to enjoy their basic rights on equal terms with other persons. Such failure will amount to discrimination against disabled persons and thus violation of Article 14 of the constitution of India.

On a combine reading of Article 14 (right to equality), Article 15 (right to non-discrimination) and the provisions for special measures in favor of the backward classes under Articles 15(3) and 15(4), we can make out a strong case in favor of persons with disability in order that they are not to be discriminated against and are able to enjoy equal protection of laws.

On more than one occasion thereafter, the Supreme Court emphasized on the point that the right to life under Article 21 must be guaranteed to every citizen something beyond just the life of an animal to include the needs of a human being including “suitable accommodation which allows him to grow in all aspects, viz., physical, mental and intellectual.”

As a law student I feel the utmost importance of this issue and the need of acknowledging and speaking about it. We should not forget that disabled too are equal citizens of country and they have equal share in its resources as any other citizens have and  the laws which permit them is not a charity but a matter of right as equal citizens of the country.

I hope through my piece at least a conversation around the rights of disabled in India will start and people will understand the importance to integrate them into the mainstream.

So that Paralympics type incident will never be repeated in future and no one will dare to do so elsewhere. Hefty fines and penal provisions should be imposed in a case if anyone disregards PWD laws and government should be serious regarding disabled friendly infrastructure within the country.

Let’s keep up this conversation alive. Let’s hope that after this incident of Paralympics the mindset about the differently-abled change and they will live their life with all rights and dignity that the Constitution of India guarantees them.

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