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National - Elections 2004 Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

Javed Abidi: candidate for the differently abled

Anita Joshua

NEW DELHI

Given the trouble that the Congress is having zeroing in on a candidate for the New Delhi Parliamentary constituency, here is an offer that the differently abled people of the country have for the party. "Support our candidate, Javed Abidi, in New Delhi and earn the goodwill - read votes in election season - of the 70 million persons with disability across the country.''

Though not all the 70 million with disability are enrolled as voters, they along with their "able-bodied'' family members constitute a sizable section of the electorate with a presence in every constituency. Since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had announced its candidate for the constituency by March 15 — when various organisations representing persons with disability passed a resolution unanimously nominating Mr. Abidi to contest the 14th Lok Sabha elections from New Delhi - they are lobbying hard with the Congress to support their bid to create space within Parliament for the disabled by not putting up a candidate against the 39-year-old.

At the same time, they have approached other parties for their support. And, since many a person with disability is unable to exercise his/her franchise because polling stations are not disabled-friendly, they have also been knocking at the doors of the Election Commission of India to make it possible for them to cast their vote `in secrecy'.

Though they have been unsuccessful so far, they remain a determined lot and have decided to battle on. "Irrespective of whether or not I get support from political parties, my candidature is certain. We want to create a space for disabled people within the political system and use it to generate awareness about disability,'' Mr. Abidi told The Hindu as he wheeled himself from one meeting to another soliciting support for the cause.

Having worked with the disability unit of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation — chaired all these years by the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi — Mr. Abidi is aware of `her commitment' to the issue and is hoping that she will be able to translate it into affirmative action politically. "It will send a clear and bold signal to the disabled people across the country that here is a political party which is sensitive to their aspirations. Moreover, the Congress is giving up seats in various States for political reasons. Why can't it give up its claim to one seat to empower the disabled and for a social gain? This is a litmus test for the Congress.''

While this is an issue that will be settled one way or the other in the next few days, an equally demanding and more enduring task is resource mobilisation. No doubt, the Disabled Rights Group (DRG) — the cross-disability national movement spearheading the endeavour — would like to keep expenses to the minimum to show that contesting an election is possible without money and muscle power. Still, being a pragmatic lot, the disabled are in the process of putting in place a mechanism to streamline funding of the campaign. Every friend/contact at home and overseas will be tapped for money. But, only cheque payments would be accepted and the entire exercise will be audited to keep it transparent.

Though time is in their favour as far as a final word from the Congress is concerned — the Capital goes to the polls only on May 10 — they are fast running out of time and patience with the Election Commission vis-a-vis their demand for facilities to vote in secrecy. After repeated efforts to get an appointment with the Election Commission proved futile, they decided to stage a dharna outside its premises on March 25 to highlight their grievances.

According to the DRG, three simple measures would make it possible for the disabled to exercise their franchise: sensitise election staff to deal with disability of all kinds, particularly the hearing impaired who face a communication barrier since their handicap is invisible, set up wooden ramps at all polling stations to make them barrier-free, and stick Braille symbols on the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) so that the visually-impaired can vote without assistance.

Given the general indifference to such issues, the DRG and its supporters know that they are in for a long haul. But this time round, they are determined not to give up easily since the disabled know only too well that the Indian political class will take notice of them only if they keep raising their voice.

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