Bangalore: National Trust Act Consultation

Last Friday evening Amita Dhanda and I were flying to Bangalore to participate as resource persons in the Southern Consultation on the National Trust Act amendment needed to bring that law in compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The meeting was held at the United Theological Centre and was attended by care givers, self-advocates and professionals working with people with intellectual and psychosocial (mental health) disabilities.

After the opening session care givers, professionals and self-advocates gave presentations. Self-advocates articulated their demand for their rights being recognised in order to live a dignified life of their choice. Family members expressed concerns about abuses of people with disabilities. Psychiatrist Srinivasa Murthy in his presentation appraised CRPD as a progressive instrument except for article 12, which was a surprising remark as the consultation was expected to focus on the issues emerging from the obligations under that article and because the recognition of legal capacity on an equal basis with others and the right to support in decision making have been seen by the international communities of both people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities as the most important breakthrough in CRPD. He proposed that the consultation should look rather into the issues of education, rehabilitation and other articles in CRPD than legal capacity.

The somewhat unexpected and chaotic situation was saved by the chairperson of the National Trust, Ms Poonam Natrajan, who explained why these consultations were convened, why the consultation paper was drafted and encouraged the participants to deal with the questions formulated in our consultation paper.

After the other presentations Amita and I spoke rather about our motivations that guided us when drafting the paper than on the document itself, which had been sent to the participants prior to the meeting to enable them to prepare for a substantive discussion on the matter of legal capacity with the right to access support to make own decisions. We emphasised that the deprivation of legal capacity exposes persons with disabilities to exploitation and abuse rather than protect them. Also, deprivation of legal capacity deprives people of opportunities to develop capabilities. Legal capacity is a presumption of law and not an evidenced fact and in the absence of that presumption none of the other rights can be exercised.

Our presentation was very well received by the self-advocates and many of the family members understodd the paradigm shift in article 12 better. There were small group discussions on the questions originally proposed by us in the consultation paper.

The group of self-advocates clearly indicated that they were small in number at this consultation and urged the organisers to involve them more meaningfully in the future. They voted for the recognition of legal capacity with the right to support and gave concrete examples on how they in fact use their capabilities. The group of family members rightly tried to find the delicate balance between protection and empowerment and started to seriously think about the new paradigm. The group of professionals was the least capable one, they were not a group as director of Basic Needs India, Mr DN Naidu mentioned in his intervention. They were unable to appoint a spokesperson for the group and to reach consensus on any of the questions.

Mr JP Gadkari, president of the national family organisation PARIVAAR concluded the meeting with emphasising that it was a most educational consultation and that further learning is needed.

Amita and I arrived back in Hyderabad on Sunday night.

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