At WeCapable, we always have said that divyang or divyangjan are not proper terms to refer to the persons with disabilities. Divyang is a new term being used in India — government of India started to use this terms officially without any consultations with the stake-holders. The intention behind the use of the term divyanjan may have been good. But the meaning of this term does not really convey equality for persons with disabilities. Divyangjan literally means a person with divine body parts.
Now The United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) has also found the term divyangjan as controversial. The Committee said that India should stop using terms like ‘divyangjan’, ‘unsound mind’, ‘retarded’, ‘leper’ and ‘lunatic’ in the government policies and documents.
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities includes 18 independent expert members. The job of this Committee is to oversee the implementation of disability rights acts in the member countries of the UNCRPD.
After ratifying UNCRPD on 01 October 2007, India became legally bound to enact and implement law to fulfill its obligations for UNCRPD. Consequently, India enacted the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act in 2016. While the use of divyang or divyangjan is not mandated in the RPWD Act — these terms have become de facto in governmental use.
The UN Committee meets two times a year in Geneva to consider the reports submitted by 153 UN member states on their compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and to examine individual petitions concerning 85 States Parties to the Optional Protocol.
India’s compliance with the UNCRPD
In the meeting from 26 August to 20 September 2019, the Committee examined India’s compliance with the UNCRPD.
The Committee said that, among other things, it is concerned about:
- The prevalence of the medical model of disability in legislation, public policies and attitudes concerning persons with disabilities, particularly in the multiple assessments and certification of disability and the requirement of different assessments to access services in the community, and in the misunderstanding of disability, including leprosy, as solely a biological condition requiring prevention and rehabilitation;
- Legislation, public policies and practices that discriminate against persons with disabilities in particular guardianship, institutionalization, psychiatric treatment and segregated community services based on disability, and negative perceptions, including “normal life” as opposed to the lives of persons with disabilities, and derogatory terminology like “mentally ill”, or “divyangjan”, the latter which is still controversial;
- The limited coverage of the Unique Disability Identification card especially in rural areas, and that service providers, such as rail services, do not recognise these cards to facilitate accessible and affordable public services for persons with disabilities.
For this the Committee recommended:
- Adopt national and state strategies for promoting understanding about the human rights model of disability among policy makers and in society, and the principles of respect for the inherent dignity, difference, and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity;
- Bring the guidelines for assessing and certifying disability into line with the human rights model of disability ensuring that organizations of persons with disabilities are involved in the reform of these guidelines, that multiple assessments do not create an undue burden for applicants, and that policies and programmes shift from care treatment and protection towards the removal of environmental and attitudinal barriers preventing equality and inclusion;
- Complete the review process to bring its legislation, policies and schemes, including the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act of 2016, the Mental Health Act 2017, the National Trust Act 1999, and measures governing general services for disability inclusion, in line with the Convention, and repeal derogatory terminology and concepts against persons with disabilities from its legislation, policies, government regulations, Government websites, and in public discourse;
- Ensure that community services are available and inclusive for all persons with disabilities without discrimination, especially in rural areas where the unique disability identification card has yet to be implemented.