Among the survivors

'The Justice Verma committee has impressed a nation full of beleaguered voices on the lack of political will and initiative, with its 657-page report, barely 20 days after they closed public comment on improvements to the law and procedure regarding sexual assault. While the bulk of attention has been on the controversial suggestion of the revoking of the immunity granted under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act with respect to sexual offences, as well as its hardened critique of present governance, what has gone largely unnoticed is Appendix 4 of the report, which outlines the proposed amendments to the holy trinity of criminal laws in India the Indian Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code, and the Indian Evidence Act and the concerted effort to focus on access to justice for persons with disabilities (PWDs). This, despite the fact that the tragic events leading to the formation of the committee did not even directly concern PWDs. That said, the risk and prevalence of sexual assault among PWDs is higher than among temporarily able-bodied persons, worldwide, and no effective response could be complete without acknowledging this.

The report comes when 2012-13 has already been a successful year for PWDs in India, in terms of inclusive policy. The Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2012 guaranteed the "right to read" to those with print disabilities, allowing them to convert published books into accessible formats without the burden of a licence fee. The second was the parliamentary standing committee report on the Electronic Delivery of Services Bill 2012, which for the first time defined "access" as including access to PWDs, and proposed to devise ways and means of ensuring complete access. A separate department of disability affairs was created under the ministry of social justice and empowerment to focus more on the policy issues and problems of PWDs. Several states have also allocated large amounts towards achieving a long-term comprehensive action plan towards inclusivity.

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