LAHORE: A protest was held by the persons with visual impairment in December 2020 to press the government to take steps for implementation of their job quota.

“For the last four to five years, we have been working on daily wages,” says Nabeel who was one of the protesters.

“We are repeatedly given assurances that we will be given contractual jobs but nothing happens.”

Nabeel says that in one of their protests in April 2019, Minister for Social Welfare Raja Basharat had publicly announced that ‘all blind people would be made permanent and that soon this notification would be released’. However to date, nothing has happened.

This was not the first protest by visually challenged people. In 2019, there was a sit-in at Charing Cross and despite a cold wave, the protesters ended up sleeping on the pavement. It was earlier the same year that Raja Basharat had visited them and assured them of the efforts being made.

Even before that, in 2014, there was another big protest which lasted for three days. There was a police crackdown on the protesters who were baton charged–though police later denied this.

Muhammad Owais, a political science lecturer at the GC College, who is also visually impaired, says that though a few steps had been taken by the government – former CM Shehbaz Sharif had increased job quota of Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) in Punjab, from 2pc to 3pc, and the new government had also implemented the laws to some extent – a lot more needed to be done.

“Private organisations continue to promise the government to advertise more job vacancies for the PWDs but they do not do it.”

According to Owais, there are over 600 daily wagers at the moment but only 250 had been appointed by the government until now.

Raja Basharat had also formed a committee to take care of their needs but Owais feels the bureaucracy is not fulfilling the minister’s directives fully and it has been disinterested in taking up the cause.

Internationally, Pakistan is bound to implement all the laws concerning not just visually challenged people but also the PWDs. In 2016, Pakistan signed and agreed to work for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Unlike the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the SDGs of the 2030 agenda are more inclusive of the PWDs’ rights as they make around 11 explicit references to the PWDs’ rights. As a result, the federal and provincial governments have established the SDG units in their planning and development departments.

In 2011, Pakistan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which is closely connected to the SDGs.

In order to provide persons with disabilities (PWDs) with job opportunities, a job quota was given. Sindh and Balochistan had a quota of 2 to 5pc and Punjab and KP had a quota of 2pc, which was later increased to 3pc.

Karachi based activist, Ali Tareen, says that Punjab may have implemented a lot more than other provinces but has still not fully implemented its PWD laws.

“I believe the real issue is that of laziness and nepotism. There is little implementation because even within the quota of disabled persons, other people get jobs to compensate for apple polishing.”

Tareen, who works with a non-government organisation called Nayee Subah, says that after the protest, they are given job offers to cool down tempers but there is no long term planning.

“The parliament passed an amendment to the Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance issued in 1981, which was the original law where quota system was introduced,” he says.

Another thing that causes problems for the PWDs to raise their demands is the fact that there are no official numbers for them. Tareen says that even in the recent census, the PWD numbers were shown to be much lower than what they actually are.

“I lost my trust in these numbers because the WHO itself says we are 15pc of the population and with events such as war against terrorism and the 2005 earthquake, which rendered thousands disabled, how can the number of this census be less than the one in 1998 census?” he raises the question.

Suleman Arshad, another visually challenged person, says that while there are conversations about job quota it also must be understood at all levels that even more important is job suitability.

“A visually impaired person cannot work as a guard – and yet I have seen this myself. Likewise, highly qualified people have to resort to work as BPS-4 employees and this is very demeaning. Those who protest and show street power get jobs but these are just short term measures.”

Owais says it is their demand that all visually impaired employees must be given Rs10,000 allowance for their conveyance. “Since we cannot take the public transport, we need our own conveyance,” he demands and adds that the utility allowance should be given to the PWDs on the same structure as given to other employees while the age of retirement must be relaxed for the elderly.

The Blind Association of Pakistan recommends that the state should establish job placement and facilitation centres for the PWDs under the National Commission for Rehabilitation of Special Persons (NCRSP) and PCRDP at the federal, provincial and district levels to strengthen the process of employment. It also urges the government to introduce internship programmes for graduates, programmes and self-employment for woman with disabilities.

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2021

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