History of Legal Rights of Persons with Disabilities in India
1912 : Indian Lunacy Act
This Act, in an attempt to cover both, Mental retardation as well as Mental Illness – made no distinction between the two.
1987: The Mental Health Act
This Act replaced The Lunacy Act and attempted to make the distinction between mental retardation and mental illness. But in doing so, the Act excluded people with Mental retardation altogether.
The provisions of this Act however were made from the perspective of people with mental illness. The Act covered issues of treatment, institutional care, guardianship that were purely from the perspective of people with mental illness.
1993- 2002 : Asian Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons:
This emphasised the need for a law that would cater specifically to the needs of persons with disabilities. This forum set the foundation for India’s first comprehensive law addressing the needs of persons with disabilities- The Persons with Disabilities Act.
1995 : The Persons with Disabilities [ Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation ] Act, 1995
The Persons with Disabilities Act was the first attempt to have a comprehensive law meant specifically for the persons with disabilities in India. It covers persons with Blindness, Low Vision, Hearing Impairment, Locomotor Disability [includes Cerebral Palsy], Mental Illness, Mental Retardation and Leprosy Cured.
The Act extends Rights to people with disabilities. It enables them to have equal opportunities and Participate as productive and contributing citizens of the country to the fullest extent of their ability.
Though the Act covered quite an extensive range of areas like Prevention, Education, Employment, Access…gaps were felt as time went by. Amendments to the Act were demanded soon after the Act came into being. There was an urgent need to extend the definition of disability to include other disabilities such as Autism. The way that the Act looks at disability and the needs of the people it is addressing require modification in order to bring it in sync with the UN CRPD [ UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities]. The New Disabilities Act is pending approval by Parliament and as soon as it is passed, it will replace the Act of 1995.
1999: The National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disability Act, 1999.
This Act came into being to address the specific needs of persons with the above mentioned disabilities. The need for this Act arose primarily as it was felt that The Persons with Disabilities Act did not cover all disabilities. It did not adequately address the concerns of persons with high support needs and those with developmental disabilities. Moreover it did not include persons with Autism. Issues of protection, like Guardianship that directly affect persons with intellectual disability and those with severe or multiple disability are covered under this Act.
2006: UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
The UN CRPD is a very important document in the context of disability rights. The first Convention of its kind that covers within its fold all disabilities, without giving a conventional definition of disability, it covers a wide range of issues.
The fact that the UNCRPD incorporates the voices of persons with all disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, from all across the world makes it truly representative of the needs, concerns and rights of persons.
Covering issues of education; employment; access; health – to the more complex ones of- right to a family; freedom from torture and abuse; legal capacity…many issues and concerns have been brought forth that till now were not openly discussed.
The UN CRPD has been ratified by India and all our disability laws are being brought in sync with it to ensure that the rights laid down by it are fully extended to persons with disabilities.