Disability discrimination in Indian workplaces: A sad reality

Employers, educators, and the public at large must be taught to see people with disabilities not as a burden but as an asset to society.

Disability discrimination in Indian workplaces: A sad reality
A common form of discrimination against people with disabilities is denying them the necessary accommodation to do their job effectively

By – Bhavya Sharma

Of an estimated 3 crore individuals with a disability in India, only half are employable while barely 30 lakh are working. As per the Census 2011, there are 14.9 million men as compared to 11.9 million women with disabilities in the country. The total number of differently-abled people is over 18.0 million in rural areas and just 8.1 million enumerated in urban settings.

Employment practices that discriminate at Indian workplaces

There have been numerous reports of discrimination against people with disabilities in the workplace over the years. One of the most common forms of discrimination faced by people with disabilities is name-calling and harassment by their peers. According to a survey by Equality Human Rights, at least 18 per cent of respondents said they had experienced some kind of unfair treatment, discrimination, bullying or harassment at work. The figure is considerably higher among disabled people as compared to the non-disabled — 27 per cent against 17 per cent.

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Another common form of discrimination against people with disabilities is denying them the necessary accommodation to do their job effectively. This discrimination can take several forms, including not providing an employee with a disability with the facilities they need to perform their job, and denying an employee with a disability a flexible work schedule to work effectively. According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, denial of reasonable accommodation also constitutes an act of discrimination.

The inherent bias against the community puts them in a spot wherein they could also be discriminated against to a point where they are paid less in comparison to their counterparts. There is also the possibility that employers are discriminating against people with disabilities by denying them the opportunity to apply for jobs that they are qualified for.

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A report by International Labour Organisation reveals that there is a widespread myth that persons with psychosocial disabilities are more violent than the general population. The report adds that this myth carries over to the workplace, where persons with psychosocial disabilities can be misperceived as dangerous, unpredictable and lacking self-control. These stereotypes ostracize them further.

Legal framework in India for the welfare of Persons with Disabilities

The Constitution of India lays down the rights pertaining to the equality, freedom, justice, speech and dignity of all citizens of India including disabled individuals. To ensure the welfare of Persons with Disabilities, the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (Divyangjan) (DEPwD) under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment was set up in May 2012. The DEPwD is the nodal department for implementing various programmes, schemes and other initiatives for the welfare of persons with disabilities across

Several schemes were also launched by the Centre for the welfare of the PwD:

a. DEPwD launched a scheme Deendayal Disabled Rehabilitation Scheme (DDRS) which aims to provide grant-in-aid to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for projects relating to rehabilitation of persons with disabilities.

b. District Disability Rehabilitation Centers (DDRCs) scheme for providing infrastructural, administrative and technical support to the disabled individuals at district level.

c. The Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment has been implementing a Scheme for Implementation of Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (SIPDA) for providing financial assistance for undertaking various activities outlined in the RPwD Act, 2016. The rules cover all types of organisations operating in India and also sets out the complaint redressal mechanism.

Roles and responsibilities of a private organisation in India

The Parliament of India in order to empower persons with disabilities enacted the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (the “Act”) and Rights of Persons with Disabilities Rules, 2017 (the “Rules”). The Act was aimed to empower persons with disabilities such as providing equal opportunity. The Act imposed certain obligations on the private entities operating in India including the foreign companies having place of business in India. The Act provided a clear provision that all companies registered under the Companies Act, 1956 or Companies Act, 2013 shall adhere to the provision provided under the Act.

The head of the private establishment shall ensure that their organisation shall comply with the provisions provided under the act pertaining to the offering of employment to the disabled individual, assurance that there shall be no discrimination basis the disability of an individual. Such private establishment shall ensure that there must be a proper policy for the employment of disabled persons. Organisation shall provide a complete and transparent mechanism for hiring disabled persons and shall ensure that there must be proper facilities available to the disabled individuals working with the organisations.

The Act also provides for penal provisions for non-compliance with the applicable act. Any aggrieved person may file a complaint as per the mechanism provided under the Act. Contravention of the Act and Rules shall attract a fine which may extend to Rs. 10, 000 for the first contravention, and not less than Rs. 50,000 but may extend to Rs. 5, 00, 000, for subsequent contraventions or failures. Further, if a company commits an offence under this Act, every person who at the time of the offence was in charge of for the conduct of the business of the company, shall be assumed to be guilty of the offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.

Key to ending discrimination

It is important to understand that the spectrum of people with disabilities is huge and diverse and should be treated accordingly. The key to ending discrimination against people with disabilities is to raise awareness and educate people about their rights. Employers, educators, and the public at large must be taught to see people with disabilities not as a burden but as an asset to society. People with disabilities must also be educated about their rights and the laws that exist to protect them from discrimination. This will allow them to fight against discrimination in the workplace and help them to live their life with fewer challenges.

(The author is the Founder of Bhavya Sharma & Associates (BSA), a Professional Business Consultancy. Views expressed are personal.)

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