Empathy for The Differently Able Citizens of Gilgit-Baltistan

By Syed Shams Uddin

“Help others achieve their dreams and you will achieve yours”   said Les Brown. As an annual feature, the observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons or to put it, the Persons with Disabilities – on November 3, attuned to and in consonance with the proclamation of the United Nations General Assembly resolution 47/3 in the year 1992, aims fundamentally at assessing and evaluating the progress achieved in helping this particular segment of society to have their rights to tide over hardships encountered by them in daily life.

LIKE other nations, third December is celebrated in a befitting manner in Pakistan in deference to and in conformity with the UN resolution under reference. It has to be born in mind that in this mountainous Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B), the situations facing the special persons are admittedly worse than those living in the plains obviously because of the acutely inhospitable geography and harsh climatic conditions. The continued celebration of this day each year therefore, attaches great significance and hence is likely to go a long way in reaffirmation of the societal firm commitment to raison de’etre of the UN resolutions in bringing about greater empathy or this section o society here. Noticeably, a flurry of activity got underway in Gilgit-Baltistan overtime, with the commitment of the provincial government to launch programmes and undertake numerous measures in this particular context in consultation with and by taking all the stake-holders on board is a glimmer of hope with much more yet requiring to be done in dealing with the core problems to mitigate the hardships of this particular segment o society in the sparse and rugged mountainous part of the country.

It is noteworthy that there admittedly used to be no visible awareness before until a couple of years ago as to a celebration of the sort aiming protection of and guaranteeing the rights of the special persons. Even an elementary school for the special children was nonexistent until some three decades back when the present institution for the special children was first established. The same was the case with the implementation o two percent quota of jobs for the special persons while it became enforceable throughout the country. Be it as it may, there is now a growing awareness with the public sector institutions gradually implementing the scheme. Nevertheless, there is need of eliciting information from all public sector institutions in the province as to how many special persons conforming to the 2% quota have been employed in each as against the total number of posts. The first and foremost consideration now is a strong commitment to the enforcement of the two percent quota of jobs or the special people. While referring to the case to the special persons and the special children of this region, it will be an injustice not to make a mention of Irshad Kazmi Danyore. Himself a visually-impaired, he has been making untiring efforts to apprise the relevant quarters of the core problems facing this section of society here and how to address them. Kudos to Shabbir Haider Shah – an advocate by profession – for standing steadfastly by the former in championing the cause of the special people of this region id est in seeking a just and equitable dispensation to help live dignified life.

Precisely put, education ordinarily gets to the top of the agenda with the need felt here for the broadening of the existing educational facilities for special children by way of upgrading the current institution at the Special Education Complex, Gilgit to college level to ensure maximal facilities. Second,

it becomes imperative to evolve a mechanism of treating the special people and their respective families specially in the matter of healthcare  by way of putting in place a counter meant exclusively for them at hospitals. It is worth noting that currently there is no physiotherapist in the existing hospitals of Gilgit-Baltistan save one, Dr Salim employed at the Special Education Complex, Gilgit obviously to extend therapeutic services to the special children there. This is disregarding the fact that physiotherapist has a great job to do in the healthcare system which can unexaggeratedly be described as a linchpin in the healthcare system unhindered availability o the service may preclude people from bigger health problems. Therefore, the services are invariably needed at each district headquarters hospital. Thirdly, and awareness is to be created amongst the transporters to treat specially the commuting or travelling disabled persons. For instance, transport companies like NATCO may be asked to provide special seat for the special persons from Gilgit to Rawalpindi and vice versa. Private transport companies operating in this region too may be exhorted to meet out similar dispensation. Persons with disabilities or the special persons a term often used to refer to individual functioning, intellectual impairment, mental illness, and various types of chronic diseases. The usage has been described by some disabled people as being associated with a medical model of disability. It is worth mentioning that health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and no merely the absence of disease or infirmity. It is a state o well-being in which the individual realizes his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses o lie, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

Persons with disabilities or the special persons is an umbrella term that covers a wide range of problems facing this class that may require a variety of strategies aimed at a positive effect on the individual and how to ameliorate his or her lot, the encouragement o individual skills and seeking an improvement in socio-economic environment included. Most healthcare resources are spent on the specialized treatment and care of these persons with their health promotion requiring a multi-sectoral action involving a number of government sectors such as health, employment, education, and numerous other bodies or community-based organizations such as health support groups and numerous other bodies to address the broader issues facing this section o society. These are to include social integration o severely marginalized groups, the socially alienated, the disabled, infirm etc. Programmes that enhance the quality of these relations can improve substantially the emotional, social, physical problems. The measures are particularly meaningful or those in condition o stress and social adversity. True that schools or special children, these remain a crucial social institution for education and their preparation or life. But they need to be more involved in a broader educational role fostering healthy social and emotional development o the pupils. WHO developed a ‘life-skills’ educational curriculum which teaches a wide range of skills to school age children to improve their psycho-social competency. The skills include problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, interpersonal skills, empathy, and methods to cope with emotions. These skills enable children and adolescents to develop sound and positive mental health.

As unfolded recently, a meeting aimed at mulling plans on how to bring further improvements to the overall dispensation to the Persons with Disabilities was held couple of months back this year at Gilgit on 5th July, 208 under the auspices of Social Welfare, Women Development, Population Welfare, Youth Affairs Human Rights & Children Rights Gilgit-Baltistan in which, male and female special persons representatives – the voice of PWDs from Diamir and Gilgit Divisions with four main kinds of disables i.e. blinds, visually impaired, physically handicapped and hearing-impaired persons were the participants. During the course, it was divulged that a PC-I was under preparation in connection with the SDGs (2015 to 2030) focusing special persons ratified by the Government of Pakistan.

The PWDs representatives reportedly shared their issues and constraints being encountered in their daily life and provided ideas, made suggestions for future programs for their welfare and rehabilitation process. In the light of minute deliberations, a number of decisions were taken and tasks assigned to Social Development Department officials, PWDs representatives and their stakeholders.

Coincidentally, it synchronizes that currently, a case filed by a visually impaired persons remains subjudice in the honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan regarding implementation of 2% quota for jobs to the special persons which was lastly taken up by the honourable court on November 26 during which the court took a strong exception to the non-submission of information statistic containing the number of the special persons (visually impaired and physically handicapped) in all the provinces and the federation. The honourable court adjourned the case till 3rd December with the observation inter alia that the Day will be celebrated in the court  something underscores how  much importance the matter attaches. It is profitable to refer to the ‘United Nations Declaration on the Rights o the Disabled Persons’ written by Scott Brown beginning with:  ‘the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Disabled, statement adopted by the United nations General Assembly on December 9, 1975 was in essence, affirmative of and advocated the same rights of the persons with disabilities given an approach from a social perspective prior to the 1970s. However, the late 1960s witnessed a time for reevaluation with the UN General Assembly adopting the Declaration on Social Progress and Development on December 1, 1969 Article 19 of advocating the provision of free health services and contemplation of measures to provide social security coupled with social welfare services for all persons including measures to rehabilitate the mentally and physically disabled in order to integrate them into the mainstream society. The measures were also contemplative of provisions for education, job training and placement, and vocational and social guidance too.

However, the UN General Assembly proclaimed the Declaration on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons on December 20, 1971, which states using the parlance of the times, that “the mentally retarded (i.e, intellectually or developmentally disabled) person has, to the maximum degree of feasibility, the same rights as other human beings” – proper medical care and education, economic security, and protection from exploitation, among other rights. The declaration underlined that persons with disabilities should live with their families rathr than being institutionalized and should participate in the community. The 1969 and 1971 declarations led to the creation of the Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons, which, in a sense, represents an attempt to delineate that the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly applies to persons with disabilities. Provisions of the declaration include (1) the definition of “disabled person” as anyone who cannot ensure “the necessities of a normal individual and/ or social life, as a result of deficiency…. In physical or mental capabilities,” (2) a nondiscrimination clause applying the rights to all disabled persons regardless of “race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, state of wealth, birth,” or other situation, and (3) a statement regarding disabled persons’ “right to respect for their human dignity.” Further provisions spell out specific rights and the measures that would enable them to be exercised: civil and political rights; the right to measures to enable self-reliance; and right to medical, psychological, and rehabilitative treatment; the right to economic and social security, recent standard of living an, according to capability, to employment; the right “to have their special needs taken into consideration at all stages of economic and social planning”, and several others. Two clauses in the declaration stipulate that organizations of disable persons may be consulted regarding those rights an that persons with disabilities, their families, an communities be fully informed of their rights.

The declaration marked the beginning of a new conceptual approach to disability issues as human rights issues. Though it was nonbinding, its adoption le to several subsequent UN initiatives that built upon one another. They were the International Year of Disabled Persons (IYDP; 1981); the World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons (1983-92), which as designate as the time frame or the implementation or the World Programme of Action; and the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (1993). Those initiatives comprised policies to address the situation of persons with disabilities specifically. After the adoption o the declaration, the UN system made the inclusion of disability issues in broader human right initiatives a priority. Disability-specific policies were incorporated within broader human rights instruments, and acts were adopted that specifically targeted persons with disabilities. Even more significant was the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was adopted y the General Assembly on December 3, 2006. It enumerates the civil and political rights o disabled persons as well as such rights-related issues as access to education, health and employment. The Convention was endorsed y 82 countries on the first day it was open o signature, and it entered into force on May , 2008.’

The writer is a Gilgit-based freelance contributor, blogger. He tweets @SayyidShams

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