Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Barrier Free Voting for the Physically Challenged Voters

Javed sends a letter to the State Election Commissioner on behalf of disabled citizens of the State

(Mr. Javed Ahmad Tak, 35, was born in Bijbehara in the Anantnag district. He received his schooling from Government schools in Bijbehara, and his B.Sc. degree from the Government Degree College in Anantnag. Unfortunately, at the age of 21 he became a victim of a terrorist bullet which hit his spine and disabled him for the rest of his life. However, he overcome mental and physical odds to complete his Master's degree in Social Work from the University of Kashmir, and also completed certificate courses in Human Rights and Computers from the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). Although wheel-chair bound, Mr. Tak is recognized as a leader who has relentlessly and with extreme passion taken up the cause of disabled people in J&K, seeking full citizen rights guaranteed under the J&K Disability Act but never implemented in the past. He is a founder-member of numerous NGO's dealing with issues and sensitizing public about challenges faces by physically handicapped people in Kashmir. He has received numerous awards and citations for his selfless work and has attended numerous workshops on disability rights around the country.)

The Election commissioner

Govt. of Jammu and Kashmir

Civil Secretariat Srinagar.

Subject: Barrier free Voting for the Physically Challenged Voters of our state (J&K).

Respected Sir,

We the persons with disabilities of the state face immense problems. Although we are humans but our rights are denied because of lack of awareness and less sensitive approach. These days everyone is thinking of electioneering and right to vote but we are again in the threat and fear of denial. Already two phases of electioneering in Jammu province has witnessed zero arrangements for the persons with disabilities in J&K. The polling booths were non disable friendly. No visually challenged person could vote without seeking help because all matured blind people in the state have no knowledge about Braille script. There are few schools in the J&K state where Braille has been medium education for blind children. Therefore thousands of visually challenged people are unable to read and write.

Now that Hon’ble Supreme court has directed that elections 2009 should be barrier free for the physically challenged people. We all should get the privilege to vote with dignity.

Every adult Indian is entitled to exercise her/his voting rights and choose a government of her/his choice. This right is officially not denied to persons with disabilities either. However here lies a big dilemma – are persons with disabilities are really is a position to execute their voting right? The answer in the majority of instances is no.

Till a few years back this question had been relegated to the backseats as persons with disabilities being perceived as mere object of charity and not as adults with the rights to voice their political opinion. Poor or no proper infrastructure force most persons with disabilities to remain passive citizens. People with disabilities were never considered a potential vote bank by the political parties. In our state the political parties have not talked about we people in their respective manifestos. There we can’t expect much more from them.

However over the later half of the last decade there has been a paradigm shift from the charity and medical model to a rights based approach. People with disabilities have claimed that there are not silent recipient of charity and pity but equal partners in all activities that concerned their lives and decision making. In 1995 India enacted the Persons with Disabilities {Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights, and Full Participation) Act after being a signatory to the Asia and Pacific Decade of the Disabled from 1993 to 2002. The Persons with Disabilities Act is a first of its kind in India. Although this act does not implicitly talk about the right to exercise the franchise of persons with disabilities, Chapter VIII, Section 46 speaks of non-discrimination in public buildings. The polling booths being a public place quite naturally fall under the preview of public buildings.

On a more explicit level, the Supreme Court issued an order in 2004 stating:

a) Wooden ramps in polling stations to enabled disabled persons easy access

b) The numbers in the EVMs are to be written in Braille to facilitate voter with visual impairments

c) Separate queues and special arrangements for persons with disabilities in the polling stations

d) The personnel at the polling stations are to be trained to render necessary assistance to enable voters with disabilities exercise their franchise without harassment.

e) Adequate advertisement in print and electronic media to publicize the availability of such facilities for persons with disabilities.

In the present decade we have witnessed the historical enactment of the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in March 2007. India is a signatory to the convention and ratified the same in October 2007. Hence India is legally obligated to ensure that the provisions of the UNCRPD are adequately implemented. The UNCRDP is a unique treaty of its kind as persons with disabilities were a driving force behind the drafting and enactment of the same. Some of the articles specifically highlighting the issue are:

Article 2 of the UNCRPD speaks of non-discrimination in participation and enjoyment of fundamental freedom in every aspects of life: social, economic, cultural, political, and economic

Article 3 – full and effective participation and inclusion in society

Article 5 – equality and non-discrimination through the promotion of reasonable accommodation

Article 9 – accessibility to physical environment, to transportation, to information and communication, including information and communication system

Article 29 – right to participation in political and public life including the right to choose their representatives hence right and opportunity to vote through secret ballot and right to contest elections.

Hence in the light of the above discussion we reinstate our voting rights in an accessible and congenial environment.

I, on behalf of persons with disabilities of J&K state sincerely hope to seek your cooperation to support our cause. In the coming phases every polling booth may please be made barrier free for the physically challenged people.

Thank you very much.

Yours faithfully

Javed Ahmad Tak

Honorary Chairman

Humanity Welfare Organization HELPline (NGO)

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