5 Jun 2016

Assimilate disabled in the mainstream of the nation's life: Supreme Court

Noting its disdain over the neglect of the disabled, the Supreme Court in its recent decision in a public interest litigation has implored one and all to create awareness and set an environment where even the disabled can enjoy their human rights. Reflecting its views in Jeeja Ghosh v. Union of India [Writ Petition (Civil) No. 98/2012] [decision dated 12.05.2016] the Court was concerned with the petition filed by noted disabled activity Jeeja Ghosh challenging the alarmingly unacceptable behaviour of an airlines which deboarded her from the aircraft on account of her disability. Imposing a fine of 10 lakhs in Spicejet airlines for their perceived inhuman treatment, the Supreme Court expressed its anguish at the ill-treatment and called upon one and all to ensure that even the disabled are brought within the mainstream of society. 

Some of the notable observations of the Supreme Court are as under;
36) The rights that are guaranteed to differently abled persons under the Act, 1995 are founded on the sound principle of human dignity which is the core value of human right and is treated as a significant facet of right to life and liberty. Such a right, now treated as human right of the persons who are disabled, has it roots in Article 21 of the Constitution. Jurisprudentially, three types of models for determining the content of the constitutional value of human dignity are recognised. These are: (i) Theological Models, (ii) Philosophical Models, and (iii) Constitutional Models. Legal scholars were called upon to determine the theological basis of human dignity as a constitutional value and as a constitutional right. Philosophers also came out with their views justifying human dignity as core human value. Legal understanding is influenced by theological and philosophical views, though these two are not identical. Aquinas and Kant discussed the jurisprudential aspects of human dignity based on the aforesaid philosophies. Over a period of time, human dignity has found its way through constitutionalism, whether written or unwritten. Even right to equality is interpreted based on the value of human dignity. Insofar as India is concerned, we are not even required to take shelter under theological or philosophical theories. We have a written Constitution which guarantees human rights that are contained in Part III with the caption “Fundamental Rights”. One such right enshrined in Article 21 is right to life and liberty. Right to life is given a purposeful meaning by this Court to include right to live with dignity. It is the purposive interpretation which has been adopted by this Court to give a content of the right to human dignity as the fulfillment of the constitutional value enshrined in Article 21. Thus, human dignity is a constitutional value and a constitutional goal.
38) We should, therefore, keep in mind that CAR instructions have also been issued keeping in view the spirit of human dignity enshrined in Article 21 and the right that are to be ensured to such persons. The underlying message in all these provisions is the acknowledgment that human rights are individual and have a definite linkage to human development, both sharing common vision and with a common purpose. Respect for human rights is the root for human development and realisation of full potential of each individual, which in turn leads to the augmentation of human resources with progress of the nation. Empowerment of the people through human development is the aim of human rights.
39) In international human rights law, equality is founded upon two complementary principles: non-discrimination and reasonable differentiation. The principle of non-discrimination seeks to ensure that all persons can equally enjoy and exercise all their rights and freedoms. Discrimination occurs due to arbitrary denial of opportunities for equal participation. For example, when public facilities and services are set on standards out of the reach of persons with disabilities, it leads to exclusion and denial of rights. Equality not only implies preventing discrimination (example, the protection of individuals against unfavourable treatment by introducing anti-discrimination laws), but goes beyond in remedying discrimination against groups suffering systematic discrimination in society. In concrete terms, it means embracing the notion of positive rights, affirmative action and reasonable accommodation. The move from the patronising and paternalistic approach to persons with disabilities represented by the medical model to viewing them as members of the community with equal rights has also been reflected in the evolution of international standards relating specifically to disabilities, as well as in moves to place the rights of persons with disabilities within the category of universal human rights. {See – Report of United Nations Consultative Expert Group Meeting on International Norms and Standards Relating to Disability 10-2-2001}.
40) Earlier the traditional approaches to disability have depicted it as health and welfare issue, to be addressed through care provided to persons with disabilities, from a charitable point of view. The disabled persons are viewed as abnormal, deserving of pity and are, and not as individuals who are entitled to enjoy the same opportunities to live a full and satisfying life as other members of society. This resulted in marginalising the disabled persons and their exclusion both from the mainstream of the society and enjoyment of their fundamental rights and freedoms. Disability tends to be couched within a medical and welfare framework, identifying people with disabilities as ill, different from their non-disabled peers, and in need of care. Because the emphasis is on the medical needs of people with disabilities, there is a corresponding neglect of their wider social needs, which has resulted in severe isolation for people with disabilities and their families.
42) All these rights conferred upon such persons send an eloquent message that there is no question of sympathising with such persons and extending them medical or other help. What is to be borne in mind is that they are also human beings and they have to grow as normal persons and are to be extended all facilities in this behalf. The subject of the rights of persons with disabilities should be approached from human rights perspective, which recognised that persons with disabilities were entitled to enjoy the full range of internationally guaranteed rights and freedoms without discrimination on the ground of disability. This creates an obligation on the part of the State to take positive measures to ensure that in reality persons with disabilities get enabled to exercise those rights. There should be insistence on the full measure of general human rights guarantees in the case of persons with disabilities, as well as developing specific instruments that refine and given detailed contextual content of those general guarantees. There should be a full recognition of the fact that persons with disability were integral part of the community, equal in dignity and entitled to enjoy the same human rights and freedoms as others. It is a sad commentary that this perceptions has not sunk in the mind and souls of those who are not concerned with the enforcement of these rights. The persons suffering from mental or physical disability experience and encounter nonpareil form of discrimination.They are not looked down by people. However, they are not accepted in the main stream either even when people sympathies with them. Most common, their lives are handicapped by social, cultural and attitudinal barriers which hamper their full participation and enjoyment of equal rights and opportunities. This is the worst form of discrimination which disabled feel as their grievance  is that others do not understand them.
45) It is the common experience of several persons with disabilities that they are unable to lead a full life due to societal barriers and discrimination faced by them in employment, access to public spaces, transportation etc. Persons with disability are most neglected lot not only in the society but also in the family. More often they are an object of pity. There are hardly any meaningful attempts to assimilate them in the mainstream of the nation's life. The apathy towards their problems is so pervasive that even the number of disabled persons existing in the country is not well documented.
47) On our finding that respondent No.3 acted in a callous manner, and in the process violated Rules, 1937 and CAR, 2008 guidelines resulting in mental and physical suffering experienced by Jeeja Ghosh and also unreasonable discrimination against her, we award a sum of 10,00,000 as ₹ damages to be payable to her by respondent No.3 within a period of two months from today. This petition stands allowed and disposed of in the aforesaid terms.
48) We would like to conclude this judgment by observing that to most disabled persons, the society they live in is a closed door which has been locked and the key to which has been thrown away by the others. Helen Keller has described this phenomena in the following words:
“Some people see a closed door and turn away. Others see a closed door, try the knob and if it doesn't open, they turn away. Still others see a closed door, try the knob and if it doesn't work, they find a key and if the key doesn't fit, they turn way. A rare few see a closed door, try the knob, if it doesn't open and they find a key and if it doesn't fit, they make one!”
These rare persons we have to find out.

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