The aggression shown towards disabled protesters by the police in Quetta on Monday, while condemnable, is not surprising. The police brutality is indicative of a general mindset that sees disabled persons as non-functioning members of society. This perception has only come about because the state has done little to facilitate the lives of disabled persons.
The demands made by the protesters were not unreasonable. They were asking for a reserved quota for disabled persons in government. Laws already exist for the protection of the livelihoods of disabled people but have not been implemented. The Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance 1981 already reserves a one percent employment quota in all public and private institutions for disabled persons. A National Council for the Rehabilitation of Disables Persons was also formed to look into problems, but where it is and what it does is anyone’s guess. The National Policy for Persons with Disabilities (2002) increased the ambit of this and was supposed to allow for the state to adopt a more holistic and inclusive policy for disabled persons in Pakistan. Nothing has been done to ensure that disabled people have access to jobs under these laws. The matter has worsened under the 18th amendment, as the onus has been put on provincial governments to address issues relating to disability, and every province has its own interpretation of the rights of persons with disabilities.
There is a lot that employers and government officials have to learn about the disabled communities that are under their care. Government estimates of individuals with disabilities are not reliable. In 1998, the percentage of disabled persons in the population stood at 2.4 percent. There’s no telling how much this figure has increased in the last eighteen years.
There is a lack of understanding of different disabilities, which can be physical or mental, that leads to a lack of measures to help such people – like ease of access in public buildings, schools designed to cater to disabled persons and productive employment. Our state and society must recognise that disabled persons have the ability to be productive members of society, and they deserve to be provided the necessary tools to make up for the abilities fate has caused them to lose.