by Gowthaman Ranganathan
Yesterday I learnt of the demise of Rahul Cherian. I had never met him but had heard much about him and was deeply saddened. In the past, I have followed the work of inclusive planet of which he was a co-founder. I thought that the best way to pay tribute to him will be to read up on his work and to keep it going in our own ways.
I came across the page on the Indian Express website which contains many of his editorials. Reading them was a great pleasure and I am sharing some of his ideas below.
There was much debate and discussion post the Delhi incident but little was spoken about sexual assault on persons with disabilities. Drawing our attention to the same, Rahul writes, “Unfortunately, in the vociferous debates on the subject, the dialogue has not once extended to sexual assault and sexual abuse of persons with disabilities. Most dialogues do not extend to persons with disabilities anyway, and this one is no different.” He goes on to propose concrete measures to tackle cases of sexual assault against persons with disabilities. A more detailed set of recommendations were sent to the Verma Committee, many of which finds its place in the final report.
Denouncing sympathy as a solution for the emancipation of persons with disabilities, Rahul along with his colleague seek a rights based understanding. Citing the lack of adequate constitutional safeguards in Article 15 of the Constitution against prohibition of discrimination against persons with disabilities, they write, “…persons with disabilities have no protection from discrimination under the Constitution. Nor does the Constitution prescribe that special provisions can be taken to ensure that persons with disabilities are included in society. Given this Constitutional framework, all downstream law-making relating to persons with disabilities is based on sympathy and the mood of the law makers at the given time and not based on the recognition of the fundamental rights of persons with disabilities. No wonder then that the 100 million people with disabilities remain outside the ambit of what is considered “society.””
In another editorial, he vents his anger against politicians and persons with political ambitions who were using persons with disabilities for their ulterior motives. Criticizing them, Rahul says, “persons with disabilities are still regarded as second-class citizens in this country and we cannot do anything without the charity of able-bodied persons. Yes, it is true that we need accommodation and changes to the infrastructure in many cases for us to be able to exercise our rights on an equal basis with others. But these changes and accommodation must be based on the recognition of the equal rights of persons with disabilities and not on pity… the real concern of a person with disability is that s/he should be treated with respect and as a person first and foremost, and not a tool.”
On another occasion, despite the Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) stating that “No airline shall refuse to carry persons with disability or persons with reduces mobility”, Jeeja Ghosh, a teacher with cerebral palsy was deplaned by an insensitive pilot. In light of this incident, Rahul writes, “However the CAR does not prescribe the consequences of non-compliance by airlines. The CAR also requires all airlines to run sensitisation programmes for assisting passengers with disabilities. However, it is silent on the exact nature of sensitisation programmes, thereby leaving the scope of training to the discretion of individual airlines. As is evident from Jeeja Ghosh’s experience, the training given, if any, is sorely inadequate”
Commenting on the favorable amendments to the copyright law, towards which he contributed much, he says, “The new law enables persons with visual impairment, dyslexia and other print disabilities, their families and friends, as well as non-profit organisations, libraries and educational institutions to take any book and convert it into Braille, audio, large-font and digital formats, without seeking the prior permission of publishers.”
As I read all this, I realize that he has done much, much more than is expected of 39 years – He has left behind a better place, I hope his work continues to its desired goals – RIP Rahul.
(Gowthaman is a Lawyers for Change Fellow. His areas of work and interest include gender, sexuality and civil liberties. He graduated from National Law School of India University, Bangalore in 2010. Gowthaman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)