55 percent of persons with disabilities in Bihar do not have disability certificates, and the reasons range from tedious processes to stigma and apathy.
75-year old Ramvilas from Keshwarbigha, a village in Arwal, Bihar, has been living with disability for over a decade now. He does not have a disability certificate yet. Neither does Ravinder, a young man in his twenties, who lost his fingers and partial eyesight when he was a child. Both of them have made countless visits to the block and district level offices over the years; all in vain. Apart from Ramvilas and Ravinder, Community Correspondent S.M. Zafar found another person with disability in Keshwarbigha facing the same problem. And these cases surfaced in just one village in the Karpi block of Arwal. Overall, 55 percent of the persons with disabilities in Bihar do not have disability certificates; in real numbers, this accounts for 12,69,009 persons.
One of the main roadblocks in getting a certificate is the bureaucratic nature of the process. Disability is a state subject and state governments empower “medical authorities” in their respective district to issue certificates. Presently, disability certificates are mostly issued at district hospitals. But under the 2009 amendment to the Persons with Disabilities Act, state governments have been issued guidelines to enable rural centres like Primary Health Centres and Community Health Centres to issue certificates, in case of “obvious” disability. The amendment also allows for a single doctor to examine a person for disability rather than a “medical board” doing so, and paves the way for allowing non-government health centres to do so too.
But despite the move to decentralise the process, huge hurdles remain. The biggest being that the onus of issuing a disability certificate is on the person with disability and not with the state. An article in The Hindu following the 2009 amendment says that “it is easier to get a passport in India than a disability certificate.” In 2017, Community Correspondent Bideshini Patel reported on a 28-year-old woman with disability in Odisha who died waiting for the 300 rupees that the government promised her.
Not much seems to have changed and the process remains tedious. A person with disability has to approach the designated medical authority, and many lose out at this very stage. One reason behind this is physical accessibility. For a person with disability in a rural area, making repeated trips to the district headquarters can be a physical ordeal in itself, add to that the expenses of traveling up and down and doing so at the cost of missing a working day. What is worse is that these centres may not have disability-friendly facilities like ramps and visual aid for those who need them.
According to the law, an applicant must be issued a certificate within a week of submitting the application, a month at most. For Ramvilas, Ravinder and many others, this is merely a clause on paper. Zafar also spoke to the Data Entry Operator at the Civil Surgeon’s Office (district hospital) who spelt out the rules saying that once the forms reach the district office, they are sent to the concerned authorities and a medical examination is conducted. However, on ground, this is clearly not happening as smoothly, let alone at all. Zafar adds that because the Arwal District Hospital does not have enough qualified doctors, applicants are often referred to hospitals in Patna, especially when the disability is suspected to be below 25 percent.
While physical access to the designated health centres is one aspect of the problem, the other is the treatment meted out to persons with disabilities at these centres. Women, for instance, sometimes feel uncomfortable with the way the medical examination is held. Activist Abhishek Anicca writes that when one goes to get a certificate, the doctor makes one feel like they’re doing a favour to them. Disability in India, both in popular discourse and in the official approach is rarely seen from the perspective of rights; it instead remains warped in notions of charity and stigma.
A disability certificate would entitle Ramvilas, who has no immediate family, to a monthly pension and allow him to fend for himself a little better than he is now. However, the kind of social security provided through a disability pension of 300 rupees, the amount given to people with over 40 percent disability under the central scheme and in many states including Bihar, is debatable. But even this poor amount can be the last resort for someone with no other option. Disability certificates are also required to avail scholarships and aid appliances. Yet, bureaucratic procedures and apathy exclude many from these benefits, or rights, rather.
Support Ramvilas and Ravinder’s demand for disability certificates by calling the Civil Surgeon of Arwal at +91-9470003045 and urging them to act immediately.
Video by Community Correspondent S.M. Zafar
Article by Alankrita Anand, a member of the VV Editorial Team