Enabling the Disabled

It is a matter of great pride for Goa, and it is a matter of great assurance to the differently abled Goans of all ages that South Goa has topped the list of 626 districts across the country for the best performance during 2012 in providing rehabilitation services to persons with disabilities.

The district magistrate of South Goa, Mr N D Agrawal attributed the national award to several steps: one, organizing of medical camps in all talukas to examine differently abled persons and issue medical certificates on the basis of which they could avail of welfare schemes; two, providing ramps and special toilets in government offices for differently-abled people; three, providing Braille signages in government offices for them.

According to 2001 census, more than 15,700 Goans, roughly making 1.17 per cent of the state population, were mentally challenged. This number is quite large, though the rest of the society hardly seems to be conscious of it. Of the 15,700 differently abled, about 4,900 had locomotor disabilities, 4,400 were visually impaired, 1,870 speech impaired, 1,000 hearing impaired and 3,580 had mental retardation. We do not have the final figures of the 2011 census yet, and the number of mentally challenged population would be definitely much higher. Let us hope that the announcement and conferment of the national award on South Goa triggers and stirs up the rest of the population to pay a loving and dedicated attention to the special Goans.

South Goa’s national award proves once again that if only the government and society worked with sincerity, differently abled people could be helped to lead a normal life with access to services such as identification, intervention, education, vocational training, employment and provision of impairment mitigating aids and appliances. In principle, the central and state governments are committed to ensure equal opportunity, protection of rights and full participation to persons with disabilities. For monitoring and implementing these plans, Goa has a state coordination committee headed by minister of social welfare, and a state executive committee headed by secretary, social welfare. The secretary, social welfare is also designated as State Commissioner of Disabilities, and the collectors of North and South Goa have been designated as additional commissioners of disabilities.

The award should motivate officers in South Goa to work with even greater dedication and commitment to create on environment that ensures equal opportunities, protection of rights and full participation in society to persons with disabilities. In the past, when the population was tied to agricultural land and village and the joint family system was the norm, mentally challenged persons were taken care of by elders and younger people within the family. They were made to feel a part of the family, and given loving treatment. But with the break-up of the joint family system, persons with disabilities are sometimes denied care and attention and could be found wandering in the streets. Because of their isolation, they have become vulnerable to harassment, sexual abuse and violence. Urchins may take pleasure in pelting things at them, or even in playing practical jokes that may hurt them. Unlike in other states, we do not hear of instances of inhuman practices such as whipping of women with psychiatric problems in Goa, but it could very well be that the media has not cared to pay much attention to the harassment, abuse and violence the special people among us might be suffering at the hands of those who strut about claiming they have "healthy minds".

Probably the next major campaign that the South Goa collector as additional commission of disabilities needs to undertake, in active collaboration with the superintendent of police – apart from widening and deepening the already acclaimed work in recognition and rehabilitation – is deterrent action against those responsible for harassment, abuse and violence against persons with disabilities. He could take the help of panchayats and civil society groups to gather knowledge about mentally challenged people in the villages and about how they were being treated by their families. Those who are neglected should be brought to a special home which provides them periodical health check-up, counselling, vocational training and rehabilitation. Such homes are mostly run by non-government organizations, but the government authorities should ensure that the NGOs are not a façade and conduit of smart crooks to siphon funds.

Going by the expected increase in number of Goans with disabilities in the 2011 census, the state government needs to establish more rehabilitation homes for the mentally challenged. Persons with disabilities, who do not get love and care under their family roof, should not be left to fend for themselves in alien environments or in the streets. They should be housed in a home which has facilities and amenities to equip, enable and entertain them. Once a resident of a home is fully equipped, they should be encouraged to chart out their own course.