Monday, 21 January 2013

Sambhavana Organization’s Response to the Press Release of Delhi University Dated 17th January 2013

PRESS Release
Date: 18/01/2013

Sambhavana Organization’s Response to the Press Release of Delhi
University Dated 17th January 2013 and Report of Day Long Hunger
Strike by Disabled Students and Teachers Against the Insensitive DU
Authorities on 18th January 2013.

28 disabled students and 7 disabled teachers of Delhi University
undertook a day-long hunger strike in front of DU VC’s office against
the insensitive and callous attitude of the authorities towards their
long pending grievances. DUTA executive had also issued a call of
solidarity in favour Sambhavana’s hunger strike and all together more
than 100 people joined the programme throughout the day. Sambhavana
Organization had submitted a comprehensive representation outlining
the grievances of the disabled community in DU at the behest of the
Vice Chancellor way back in September 2012. Today the authorities not
only disallowed tent facility, but even stooped down to the level of
intimidation and threat to the disabled participants and their
escorts. (A complaint to this effect has been lodged with the police.)
 In response to the deceptive, misleading and overstated press
statement of Delhi University dated 17th January 2013, we would like
to state the following. About a hundred visually and orthopedically
challenged persons braved the winter rains and stayed put in front of
the University office. The hunger strike started at 10 A.M. and
concluded at 6  P.M. with a march towards Mall Road. Despite severe
climatic conditions, every participant stayed till the end and shouted
slogans, but no one from the authorities cared to meet them.

In response to Sambhavana Organization’s declared hunger strike and
mounting pressure from every quarters, the University issued a press
release on 17th January 2013. Let us understand the context of this
press release first. At the call of Sambhavana Organization (a group
of disability rights activists vigorously championing the cause for
more than a decade), About 250 disabled students (including a large
number of girls), teachers and employees had assembled on 8th January
outside the office of Vice Chancellor, University of Delhi. We
protested against the illusory and deceptive announcements of Delhi
University authorities and against their failure to meet various legal
provisions for disabled persons. Though we had already submitted a
comprehensive representation, we had two immediate demands. We wanted
the University to constitute an Empowered Committee for preparing a
time-bound action plan for the redressal of our grievances. Secondly,
we wanted the University to announce a date of a disability summit.
However, after finding unwillingness of higher DU authorities to meet
and give concrete assurance, we marched from VC office to Arts Faculty
and blocked the roads for almost two hours.
Yet, until now, University has not made any commitment though 10 days
have elapsed. In the mean time, we have also requested other
state-bodies for their intervention, such as Prime Minister, UPA
Chair-Person, UGC Chairman, Minister HRD, and Chief Commissioner for
Persons with Disabilities. Still, the university is demonstrating a
very unrelenting attitude. It has been even intimidating those who
participated in the 8th January protest.
Instead of listening and addressing the issues we have been raising,
University tried to mislead the society through a press release.
Therefore, we hereby offer a point wise response.
1. There are a large number of issues and grievances that we have
underlined in our representation to the University, about which the
said press release is completely silent. For instance, it does not say
anything about our demand for complete waiver or appropriate
concession in reevaluation fee for the disabled students, which is
currently Rs 1000/ copy. similarly, it is silent on the issues of
updation and implementation of access audit reports; scholarships for
all needy and poor disabled students; non-NET fellowship for disabled
researchers; organization of additional classroom learning support;
problem of website inaccessibility; non-maintenance and non-adherence
to PH roster on ad hoc and permanent posts; equal treatment to
meritorious disabled students in admission procedure; and
inaccessibility of libraries.
2. Besides this, there are many claims that University has made in its
statement, which are misleading or different from the ground reality.
For instance, “Full waiver of tuition fees: but the Circular No.
Aca.l/082/2001/PWD/2012-13/537 dated 06/12/2012 Signed by Deputy
Registrar (Academic) contradicts this claim. “In continuation of this
office letter No. Aca.l/082/2001/PWD/2012-13/356 dated 13/09/2012, it
is to clarify further that the PWD students who are getting fellowship
or are employed or are getting financial assistance from any other
source shall not be eligible for the concession/waiver.” This circular
actually defeats the purpose of making the education affordable and
feasible for the target students.
3. “Full waiver of hostel fees” and “50% waiver of mess fees in
hostels”. The circular referred in the paragraph above also apply to
both of these claims, which means that students getting any financial
support from anywhere are not entitled for these benefits. Secondly,
these benefits are applied only to the University hostels; and not in
the college hostels where mostly disabled inhabit.
4. “Additional reservation of 2% seats in all hostels”. If we
calculate the total possible intake of disabled students in UG/PG
hostels under 3 % or 5 % reservation quota, the number shall remain
between 130-200. However, every year, there are about 1500 seats to be
reserved for disabled students at undergraduate level alone; and in
the recent times, about 500 disabled have been taking admission every
year. Thus, it is apparent that the said provision will enable only a
very tiny section of disabled students to enjoy hostel facility. On
the contrary, it appears that the 2 % additional reservation is an
attempt to sideline the genuine demand of two inclusive hostels for
disabled: one for boys and another for girls. DU is a central
University and a large number of disabled come from different corners
of the country. They need accessible accommodation in Delhi. Hence,
metro card is not the solution; we need accessible hostels for
disabled. Further, metro card may not free the disabled girls from the
concerns of security/safety and hardships they have to face on their
way to college/University.
5. “Free study tour in June 2013- for 100 students-to three
universities in the UK for better understanding and awareness of
facilities and programmes for students with special needs and
disabilities”. We believe that it is an attempt to pump-in crores of
rupees in the crisis ridden Universities of the West by using the most
vulnerable section of our society, the disabled at the cost of
ignoring their day-to-day genuine difficulties, particularly those
related with the procurement of accessible reading material and
disabled friendly infrastructure. If the same money is utilized for
these purposes, a lot may be secured. Therefore, we don’t want free
tour to foreign university unless we are given study material in
accessible format. Did we ask you to send us abroad? Did we tell you
that going abroad will resolve our problems of barrier free campus or
accessible study material??
6. “Assistance to visually impaired students for day to day course
work”. This claim does not match with the ground realities. EOC has a
very limited numbers of readers available in comparison to students
demand. Not more than 20 students can sit there in EOC to avail this
facility. Moreover, since this facility is by and large limited to the
central body (EOC) alone, it implies that every disabled student
enrolled in any college will have to negotiate huge distance to get
reading facility.
7. “Examination Writing Policy for the conduct of free, fair and
hassle free exams” and “Writers' bank”. In this regard, it may be
noted that EOC may have a small bank of writers/scribes, however, such
banks/pools are missing where they are needed the most: 82 colleges as
well as the University Departments/Faculties. None of them have
created it. Even there have been many cases recently reported in the
media where disabled students could not properly attempt their papers
owing to the non-availability of good scribes or non-cooperating
attitude of college authorities. Most of the colleges till date are
not equipped with necessary computer softwares to enable visually
challenged students for writing their exams on computer. Even the
remuneration of scribes is not generally released on time. At the time
of exams, very often, students were not allowed to take their own
writers in the examination halls and many of them were given peons to
write their exams. As a result, many of the students became helpless
victims so much so that they had to submit blank sheet instead of even
a single written word.
8. “Facility of conversion of reading material in accessible formats”
and “Availability of approximately 2500 books in E-text & Audio
format”. The process of procuring and preparing accessible reading
material began about 30 years ago in Delhi University and till now it
has developed a stock of only 2500 books is self explanatory of the
complacency of DU authorities. Most of it has been procured from other
libraries; and very little is available for Post-Graduation level
courses. Subject committees were constituted by EOC more than two
years ago; and these committees have recommended proper lists of books
to be converted in accessible formats. Most of these books have still
not been converted; even the meeting of these committees have not been
convened for last two years. New courses have been planned and
introduced without ensuring advance availability of accessible reading
material. Therefore, students have to wait for unlimited time to get
the accessible texts. There is no proper arrangement of editing the
scanned books.
9. “Free accessible transport facility”. The University provided
transport facility is limited to the task of bringing and dropping
back some blind students from their private/trust managed hostels to
the colleges located in north campus alone. There are no arrangements
for other parts of city and other colleges.
10. “Counseling”. The veracity of University’s claim to provide
counseling services to disabled students may be gaged from the fact
that it has only one “counselor” who is a student of B.A. Honors
Psychology from IGNOU (first year).
11. “Placements”. We fail to understand their claim regarding
“placement. The press statement in question is signed by two officials
of EOC whilst the matter of “placement” does not come under their
purview. Further, when in all colleges of DU (except 2), the 3 %
reservation quota of disabled has not been filled up, it is absolutely
impossible for us to comprehend this claim. Even on the teaching
posts, there is still a lot of backlog; and whatever seats have been
filled, that has happened because of the effective intervention of
Delhi High Court. How and in what way can they place students? Can
they produce a record stating as to how many number of students they
have placed in the last three years?
12. “Extracurricular activities (Sports, Cultural Seminars &
Workshops)”. Of course quite a lot of it was exclusive, however, EOC
was at least organizing some sport activities for disabled students
over last 3-4 years. However, last year, these were discontinued. Even
the annual National Conference on Disability earlier started by EOC
has been discontinued. Apart from the earlier initiative of EOC, there
does not occur any sporting activity any where in DU for such persons.
The state of other co-curricular activities for disabled in DU is
extremely pathetic. There is no functioning mechanism to promote such
activities among disabled students in the university and affiliated
colleges in an inclusive environment.
13. “Monitoring of the enabling units of the colleges/ departments
through regular visits by the officials”. Enabling Units were provided
by UGC under the 11th plan and hence do not come under the purview of
the EOC.  However Delhi University and its affiliated colleges have
hardly demonstrated any interest in ensuring proper implementation of
the provisions laid by the UGC guidelines to this effect.  In most of
the colleges and University Departments/Faculties, Enabling Units were
either not constituted or mostly remained non-functional. This has
been a serious hurdle in the implementation of the provisions intended
to redress the grievances of disabled employees and students thereby
constraining their participation in the University community. In most
of the Colleges where these units were constituted, the administration
failed to provide required resources. In most cases, disabled teachers
and students were kept in dark of the existence of enabling units and
are deprived of their much needed participation in these bodies.
Moreover, enabling units at the Departmental level were not formed at
14. “Availability of some latest technology in EOC for the use of
Students with Disabilities” 90 percent of the computers are out of
service. Many computers don’t support screen reading software
effectively as the configuration of the systems is very low. There is
no study culture in the computer unit at all. Most of the time they
involve ten students in one or the other course at the expense of so
many hundreds of students thereby creating obstacles for those hundred
students to study in the computer lab. As far as internet goes, it is
very difficult to open and check Gmail account regularly, not to speak
of other academic journals and important websites.
15.  “The Cell on Sunday, 13th January, 2013 organised a medical
health check-up for students with visual impairment at All India
Confederation of Blind Hostel”. This extraordinary special approach
implies treating visually disabled as exclusively and necessarily
diseased and “unhygienic”. It also reflects Universities general
failure to provide accessible health facilities as evident in the fact
that till date, the University Health Center Building is without lift
and accessible toilet. Further, we have been informed that the
opportunity of above-referred medical check-up in AICB was utilized by
the OSD-EOC to persuade blind girl students for not participating in
the Sambhavana led protest demonstrations.
16. The DU press release is also silent about the barbaric eviction
proceedings University has iniciated against one of its employee (Dr.
Saibaba) who is suffering with 90 % acute orthopedic disability.

Nikhil Jain
(President, Sambhavana Organization)

Vikas Gupta
Assistant Professor–University of Delhi;
Joint Secretary–Sambhavana Organization;
National Executive Member–All-India Forum for Right to Education (AIF-RTE);
Associate Editor–'Reconstructing Education';

Permanent Office: Department of History,
Faculty of Social Sciences,
University of Delhi ,
Delhi 110007, India.

Ph: +91-11-266659 (O.), +91-11-27662347 (R.) & +91-9818193875 (M.)