It was an unusually quiet protest. Around 500 people gathered at Jantar Mantar on Tuesday evening, held a candle light vigil, while communicating to each other their thoughts on the disability rights Bill. There were people in wheelchairs, people who cannot hear and those who cannot speak. But that did not lead to an unenthusiastic protest. Excited hand gestures and facial expressions could be seen in every direction.
"We are protesting against the fact that even after the approval by the Cabinet of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill on December 12, the Bill wasn't even tabled in Parliament before the Houses got adjourned," Javed Abidi, the convenor of the Disabled Rights Group, an advocacy group for the rights of physically challenged people, said. "Four years went into drafting that Bill. We are scared that the government does not give this Bill any priority and given upcoming general elections, Parliament may not be re-convened early next year for any legislative business. If this happens, then all our effort since the past four years will go down the drain."
Abidi, in a wheelchair, could be seen going around the gathering accepting wishes for the new year as well as instructing a few people about the steps to be taken next. Communicating to a hearing- and speech-impaired person, he wrote on a piece of paper: "Arun Jaitley, 11.30 am." Then he outlined a house with his hands indicating that the meeting was to take place in Jaitley's house on Wednesday. He then told him that he should remember to take an interpreter along.
"We met the Vice President yesterday. He has promised us unequivocal support. So has Prakash Karat, who we have met before," he said.
Sanjeev Malhotra, a 48-year-old government official also in a wheelchair, was watching from a distance. "I have come here to express my support to the cause, but this is not enough," he says. "They have to be more vocal about it. They have to take this beyond a mere emotional display at Jantar Mantar."
Abidi agrees, saying, "This is just an attempt to be visible. We wanted to show people that when they are busy celebrating the new year, we are lamenting the fact that the 70 million disabled people of India are just not an important enough vote bank for our politicians. The politicians seem to be taking us for granted. I think it's probably because we are not very visible."
In a statement, Abidi also said Parliament's adjournment on December 18, two days ahead of schedule, was hard to understand and that the Bill could easily have been tabled in the two days.
He said the Disabled Rights Group and the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled want the legislation taken up when Parliament is reconvened in early February. "Or else, we will take to the streets in huge numbers. Disabled people from across the country will jam the streets of Delhi," he said.
However, as the clock struck 7 in the evening, the people, who had been there for the past two hours, could be seen hugging each other and gesturing excitedly. The optimistic note they were parting with was unmistakable.