By Anushree Jois
Earlier this year, the Haj Committee of India issued its 2018-22 guidelines for pilgrims. These guidelines not only bar the differently-abled from making an application for the Haj subsidy provided by the government but also uses terms such as ‘crippled’ and ‘handicapped’ to refer to them. The National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) has recently made a representation to the Ministry for Minority Affairs seeking changes to the document to make it more inclusive and non-discriminatory.
The subsidy for going on the Haj
The Haj is an annual pilgrimage undertaken by Muslims to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. It is considered to be a religious duty for Muslims to carry out the pilgrimage at least once in their adult lives. The government offers a Haj subsidy in the form of discounted airfares on the government-owned Air India. However, in 2012 the Supreme Court ordered that the subsidy be gradually reduced and abolished by 2022, as it was found to be unconstitutional and inconsistent with the teachings of the Quran.
The Ministry of Minority Affairs looked into framing the guidelines, a task which is presently carried out by the Haj Committee of India. A six-member committee was formed by the Ministry to carry out a review of the 2013-17 guidelines and to recommend changes. Following its recommendations, the new guidelines were framed for 2018-22. Clauses pertaining to the barring of the differently abled from the Haj subsidy, however, was retained from the old guidelines.
This issue was pushed into the limelight when Faisal Nawaz, a 34-year-old social worker from Delhi, sought to apply for the Haj subsidy in order to accompany his father. He soon realised that he was ineligible for the subsidy as he is affected by scoliosis and polio and is often restricted to his wheelchair.
Guidelines are deemed to be derogatory
Disability rights activists have claimed that that the guidelines are in violation of various laws, including the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (RPDA), the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 and the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The guidelines discriminate against specially-abled people as it bars them from making an application for the subsidy. Also, the usage of terms such as ‘crippled’ and ‘lunatic’ is offensive and hurtful.
The bar placed on people with physical and mental disabilities comes as a surprise to many, given that the host country, Saudi Arabia, does not bar specially abled people from undertaking the pilgrimage. The country has also worked to improve its facilities in order to make the pilgrimage more accessible for the differently abled. Earlier this year, the Saudi Crown Prince issued directives to his government to study recommendations from the Ministry of Haj and Umrah on improving facilities for the use of the disabled.
India’s stance on specially abled
India became a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007. As of 2011, it had a disabled population of close to 2.68 crore, which was 2.21% of the total population. Over the years, India has introduced legislation to protect and provide for the differently-abled. With the enforcement of the RPDA, the government aims to provide equal opportunities to persons with disabilities. The Act calls for the punishment of any person who insults or humiliates the differently-abled. India has changed its outlook about the differently-abled over time and is moving to create a more inclusive and equal society.
While the good intentions of the Ministry and the Haj Committee are not being questioned, it is unfortunate that the benefit of the guidelines has not been extended to the differently-abled. The guidelines are presently being challenged before the Supreme Court in a petition filed by the Kerala State Haj Committee on various grounds, including a reduction and allotment of the quota for the travel subsidy. The challenge, however, does not include the issue of the treatment of the different-abled. As the Haj subsidy will be phased out in 2022, a quick response to the issue will be needed to correct this injustice.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius