Dear Maneka ji,
We are pained to read a statement purported to have been made by you with regard to the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014 (RPD Bill). You have been quoted as saying that “It (Bill) does not differentiate between mentally ill and mentally disabled person. But there is a difference between the two. If a person is mentally ill like schizophrenic, how can he be given a job“.
It needs to be emphasised that disability is a heterogeneous issue and each and every category of impairment has its own limitations.
It is a fact that persons with impairments may not be able to perform all kinds of jobs. But this is as true with persons who have no impairment/disability. Therefore it is fallacious to conclude that it is only persons with mental illness who are incapable of being employed.
It would be pertinent to point out that persons with mental illnesses, including those with schizophrenia, have the right to work under current Indian law. In a 2010 judgment, the Bombay High Court upheld the right to be employed, of a man who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and who was forced to resign from his job at the Shipping Corporation of India, because the employer refused to transfer him to a shore-based position (Edward D’Cunah v Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities). The High Court held in this case, that under Section 47 of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995, the Shipping Corporation had a statutory duty to accommodate an employee diagnosed with schizophrenia, by transfering him to another suitable position. The High Court ended with the following words by Tagore: “The problem is not how to wipe out the differences but how to unite with the difference intact”. This judgment was affirmed by the Supreme Court of India in October 2013.
Needless to add that having ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, India has the obligation to protect the right to work of all persons with disabilities, including those with mental illnesses. Every jurisdiction which has an evolved framework of anti-discrimination laws for persons with disabilities – such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990; the Australian Disability Discrimination Act, 1992 or the Equality Act, 2010 of the United Kingdom – contains the same rights and protections for all persons with disabilities, including those with mental illnesses.
There are any number of examples that can be given of persons with schizophrenia, performing well in high level jobs. John Nash, the famous mathematician and recipient of the Noble Prize is one such example. In India too there are a number of successful people who have different types of mental health issues. While some have come out and talked about their disabilities, most of them try to conceal it, given the stigma attached to the issue.
We feel your statement will make such persons more vulnerable. They may feel a threat to their jobs and livelihood. Many may even refrain from seeking medical and social assistance. In our opinion this is a damaging and sweeping statement that has been attributed to you.
We request you to have meetings with organisations/persons working with those having psychosocial disabilities so that you can have a clearer picture.
National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled
36, Pt. Ravishankar Shukla Lane, New Delhi 110 001
Copy: Shri Thaawar Chand Gehlot, Minister for Social Justice & Empowerment