UP’s draft population control bill shows a regressive attitude towards children with disabilities
A law that is formulated does not guarantee that it will be implemented or that it will change attitudes. The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act of 2016 followed India’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but the conditions of the target group show little noticeable change. In addition, some state governments appear unaffected by the awareness-raising sought by the UNCRPD and allegedly by the 2016 law. Population control measures show this most clearly. It appears that the Uttar Pradesh bill aims to achieve the national goal of reducing or stabilizing the population by 2045. In addition to mandatory and constitutionally questionable provisions intended to enforce a two-child norm, the draft law makes concessions in this case “death or disability of the child”. Having a third child is not breaking the law if one or both of the couple’s children have died or are disabled.
From a state that is perfectly in tune with the center, this “placement” of the divyang – the prime minister’s label for the disabled – is deeply worrying. Disability is implicitly equated with death, revealing a regressive and dangerously discriminatory mindset. It is as if the equality and inclusion enshrined in the 2016 law, and its enumeration of the responsibilities of governments and society to ensure them, did not exist. Rajasthan also has a population control law with a similar provision. These regulations devalue the person with disabilities by exposing him or her as “inferior”, as a burden and outside of the social mainstream. The Rajasthan law predates the 2016 law, but the UP bill has no such excuse. It not only institutionalizes the prevailing attitude of Indians towards the disabled, but also evades the expectations of legitimate state support by handing full responsibility to the parents by “allowing” a third child.
The 2016 law is nowhere near perfect, but it could have moved on if the Center and states tried to enforce its provisions. But it is obviously little more than a polite nod to the UNCRPD. The disappointment of the heads of the ministries and facilities created for the disabled and of the activists about the low budget for this segment, especially in a pandemic year, shows the nonchalance of the center. States are little better. How much has been done for access to the public space for the disabled, for the training of special educators, for the support and information of disadvantaged people with disabled children or simply for the understanding of physical and other problems? Perhaps the criticism the UP bill has drawn is making other states planning population control laws – another question, whether or not they are necessary – think twice about it. No law that directly or indirectly discriminates against someone based on skill, community, or other principles is acceptable. And without political will and sensitivity, even the best laws will fail.