Disability in India

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India is a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, having signed the treaty on 30 March 2007 and ratified it on 1 October 2007.[1]

Unlike those in the West, most people with disabilities in India and their families are focused on survival in the context of deep poverty. India's disability rights movement, however, mainly comprises elite, middle-class activists who generally mirror the goals of the disability rights movement in Western countries.[2]

Common public perceptions of disability in India are influenced by certain discourses that are generally rejected by the field of disability studies. People with disabilities are often seen as wicked or deceitful, or as unable to progress to adulthood and dependent on charity and pity for assistance.[2] This is as opposed to an emphasis on the strengths people possess despite their disabilities, and their potential for adaptation.

Disability in India is affected by other social divisions such as class, gender, and caste.[2] Statistics show that women with disabilities in India are more marginalized than their male counterparts.[2] Anita Ghai argues that Indian feminism has ignored the unique conditions of women with disabilities.[2]


The number of people with disabilities in India was stated as 21 million in the 2001 Census of India.[3] In the 2011 census, the figure rose by 22.4% to 26.8 million.[4] However, Ghai offered a higher estimate in 2002, of 70 million.[2]

According to the 2011 census, 20.3% of people with disabilities in India have movement disabilities, 18.9% have hearing impairments, and 18.8% have visual impairments. The 2011 census additionally collected data on mental disability for the first time, and found that 5.6% of Indians with disabilities fall into that category.[4]

Two analyses of data from a 2004 study in a rural area of Karnataka have estimated the rate of disability to be around 6.3%[5] and the rate of mental disability specifically to be around 2.3%.[6]

Legislation and Government Policy[edit]

The Parliament enacted the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunity, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act in 1995 to provide recognition to the rights and special needs of the disabled in the country. It also provided for reservations for persons with disabilities in government jobs and higher educational institutions.[7]

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 replaced the earlier legislation, and widened the scope for defining disability in India, with types of recognised disabilities increasing in number from seven to 21. The reservation offered in the 1995 legislation was also increased to provide more opportunities for the upliftment of the disabled.[8] The rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities are protected under Mental Health Care Act, 2017.

The Indian government has also enacted initiatives such as the Accessible India Campaign to make public spaces and transportation barrier-free for persons with disabilities.[9] The usage of the term Divyangjan ("those with divine abilities") was also promoted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as an alternative to the term "Persons with Disability".[10] However disability rights activists called it condescending[11] and derogatory.[12]

In Indian cinema[edit]

India's Hindi-language cinema has often reinforced negative stereotypes about people with disabilities, but more recently it has produced several films that have helped raise awareness.[13] A recurrent theme has for a long time been that disability is a punishment for misdeeds, for instance in Jeevan Naiya (1936), Aadmi (1968), and Dhanwan (1981).[13] Characters with mental disabilities have frequently been used as comic relief, a trend which has been criticized by Dinesh Bhugra as reinforcing social stigma.[13] Atanu Mohapatra identifies several ways in which women with disabilities are misrepresented in Hindi films as compared to men with disabilities: they are included less frequently, they very rarely win the love of able-bodied men despite the converse often being the case, they are much less likely to become self-supporting economically, and they are not included unless they are physically attractive.[13]

The decade following 2005 has seen a shift in the representation of people with disabilities by Hindi cinema. The immediate cause for the shift appears to have been an international disability film festival in 2005 facilitated by the Ability Foundation (an Indian NGO).[13] Black (2005) broke new ground by focusing on a female protagonist with a disability, a girl who is blind, deaf, and mute but succeeds academically after considerable struggle.[13] Other films including Taare Zameen Par (2007) by famed actor and director Aamir Khan have explored the lives of people with dyslexia, progeria, Asperger syndrome, and amnesia, among other conditions.[13] There were some earlier precedents to these more well-rounded portrayals, including Koshish (1972) and Sparsh (1980), which explored deafness and blindness respectively.[13] Conversely, some recent Hindi films have continued to display ill-founded stereotypes about people with disabilities.

Also some Tamil film industry movies have portrayed disabled people like the movie Deiva Thirumagal which portrays a mentally challenged father and his daughter.


  1. ^ "UN Treaty Collection: parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: List of parties". United Nations. 2012-03-21. Archived from the original on 2012-08-19. Retrieved 2015-11-20.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Ghai, Anita (2002). "Disabled Women: An Excluded Agenda of Indian Feminism". Hypatia. 17 (3): 49–66. doi:10.1353/hyp.2002.0052. Retrieved 20 November 2015.
  3. ^ Chavan, B.S.; Rozatkar, Abhijit R. (2014). "Intellectual disability in India: Charity to right based". Indian Journal of Psychiatry. 56 (2): 113–116. doi:10.4103/0019-5545.130477. PMC 4040055. PMID 24891695.
  4. ^ a b Sivakumar, B. "Disabled population up by 22.4% in 2001-11". Times of India. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  5. ^ Kumar, S. G.; Das, A.; Shashi, J. S. (2008). "Epidemiology of Disability in a Rural Community in Karnataka". Indian Journal of Public Health. 52 (3): 125–129. Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  6. ^ Kumar, S. Ganesh; et al. (2008). "Prevalence and pattern of mental disability using Indian disability evaluation assessment scale in a rural community of Karnataka". Indian Journal of Psychiatry. 50 (1): 21–23. doi:10.4103/0019-5545.39754. PMC 2745873. PMID 19771302.
  7. ^ "Fact Check: What Has the Govt Done for Persons With Disabilities?". The Quint. Retrieved 2018-10-31.
  8. ^ "Fact Checking Government Claims On The 'Rights Of Persons With Disabilities Act'". The Logical Indian. 2018-10-11. Retrieved 2018-10-30.
  9. ^ "Our cities cannot be smart, until they are accessible for everybody". hindustantimes.com/. 2018-10-23. Retrieved 2018-10-31.
  10. ^ Pioneer, The. "What's the correct word? A little sensitivity goes a long way!". The Pioneer. Retrieved 2018-10-31.
  11. ^ "PM uses `divyang' for the disabled, upsets activists". Times of India.
  12. ^ "Please don't call us divyang, disability rights community tells PM". The Hindu.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h Mohapatra, Atanu (Dec 2012). "Portrayal of Disability in Hindi Cinema: A Study of Emerging Trends of Differently-Abled" (PDF). Asian Journal of Multidimensional Research. 1 (7). Retrieved 20 November 2015.