Despite the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 mandating 4 per cent reservation for Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) in government jobs, the job sector in India barely has any representation from the PWDs community. To make matters worse, there has been a consistent pattern of ‘excluding job reservation’ in government recruitment for people with disabilities, alleged activists.
More than 70 per cent of the PwDs of the employable age are unemployed in the country, claims a report, by Equiv.in, a recruitment platform that cited government data for the numbers. The report adds that only 34 lakh of the about 1.34 crore PwDs of the employable age have a job in India. Additionally, data from the 2011 census shows that in 35 out of the 36 states and Union Territories, most PwDs were not employed. The only exception was Nagaland, where 51.92 per cent of the PwD population was working.
The reservation policy is diluted as both the Central and state governments time and again exempted jobs from the reservation category. This brings down the very limited job vacancies for PWDs.
Removing Reservation For People With Disabilities
In 2021, the Center exempted all categories of posts under the Indian Police Service and Indian Railway Protection Force, including some other government services, from the provision of 4 per cent reservation in employment for persons with benchmark disabilities. A gazette notification also exempts Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Daman and Diu, and Dadra and Nagar Haveli police services from the reservation provision under the Act.
Further, in a separate notification in 2021, the government exempted all categories of posts of combatant personnel of Central Armed Police Forces like Border Security Force, Central Reserve Police Force, Central Industrial Security Force, Indo Tibetan Border Police, Sashastra Seeria Bal, and Assam Rifles from the provisions of the reservation. In 2018, the government had exempted all categories of posts of combatant personnel in the Armed Forces from the provision.
These job exemptions have been reported in all categories of posts in services including IPS, doctors etc. Highlighting similar struggles for recruitment in top medical institutes such as All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Dr Satendra Singh, co-founder of Doctors with Disabilities, says, “We have recently written to the Ministry of Family Welfare highlighting that several posts in the doctor cader are not identified for people with disabilities. For example, the new AIIMs are not identifying jobs for visually impaired people in the field of physiatry.”
This pattern of job exemption has evoked strong reactions from disability rights activists, who claim that these moves militate against the spirit of the provisions that allow reservation under the RPWD Act. Activists claim that a lack of periodic review every three years and little to no attempts to fill posts are reasons for the minimal participation of PWDs in government jobs. They add that many PWDs also fall out of the job market due to inadequate facilities provided by employers.
No flexibility in job criteria
Dr Satendra adds that, in whatever little jobs that are then announced, many are left vacant due to no flexibility in criteria. This means if there is a job vacancy for a post and the job criteria allow a person with one leg disability to apply, then people with locomotor disability in both legs or one arm or any other disability will not be eligible to apply. Activists call this discrimination based on disability.
Thirty-six-year-old Monika Dhankhar, who has a locomotive disability in one arm and one leg, has been working as a nursing officer for the Delhi government for the last five years. Last year, when she wanted to apply for a nursing tutor’s post at Lady Hardinge Medical College, she found out that she could not apply for the post as the criteria for the job was that those with only one leg disability can apply.
Following this, Dhankhar filed a case in the Court of Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (PwDs), which recently has given a verdict in her favor. “I have been working as a nursing officer for the last five years already and the post I had applied for is a teaching post and is easier in comparison to my current post. Yet, I was not allowed to apply for the post. Why?” She adds, “Even before checking our ability for a position, the recruiters assume that a certain job can only be done by a person with a disability in one leg and not by any other person with disabilities.”
The court, in its verdict, said that the medical college has discriminated against People with disabilities, based on ‘one arm and one leg’ criteria. The court further asked the recruiters to scrap the advertisement and re-notify the vacancies.
Monika lamented, “This is the case in multiple vacancies and for every job recruitment, PWDs have to go an extra mile to challenge the system to get our rights. Often, many are not able to fight court cases and eventually, fall out of the employment world and are unable to lead an independent life.”
Shameer Rishad, convenor of the Javed Abidi Foundation (JAF), says,
“Many skilled and qualified PwD applicants do not get jobs because of these very minute rigid criteria. Therefore, several posts for PwDs are left vacant, causing more unemployment in the community. This calls for flexibility in the recruitment criteria. Candidates should be evaluated on their skills and not on their body parts. This can only be done when employers will overcome their bias that PwDs cannot work.”
Recently, in a written reply, Rajya Sabha was informed by the Union Ministry of Education that around 344 posts for the PWDs category are vacant in central universities across India.
In another incident, the Court of Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (PwDs), in a recent order, recommended the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), New Delhi, to fill up vacancies reserved for PWDs, which were kept pending for more than 14 years.
Activists demand more seriousness in employing PwDs
Demanding annual data on vacancies filed by PwDs and timely review of vacancies, activists claim that while India has a comprehensive legal framework in place through the RPDA, however, only token efforts are made to even implement them and employ PwDs.
Muralidharan, the General Secretary of the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD), says, “Unlike a few years ago, technology now has aided PwDs in various ways and made them capable of doing more jobs. In this context, the job vacancies for the PWDs should increase, but the reality is contrary to that.”
The Executive Director of National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People’s (NCEPEDP), Arman Ali, says, “With reasonable assistance and assist technology many PwDs can be included in the workforce. For example, for the last two decades PwDs were demanding Work From Home facilities, but they were denied stating multiple reasons. However, the Covid-19 pandemic brought in the culture of WFH overnight. This is one of the many examples that show the government’s lack of interest in involving PwDs in the job sector.”
He added that there is also a need of well though campaigns from the government for the inclusion of PwDs and to increase awareness about disabilities among the people.
This story is produced as part of the Laadli Media Fellowship 2022