NEW DELHI: India’s global face of disability rights movement, Javed Abidi, died of chest infection on Sunday. He was 53. Abidi, who founded the Disability Rights Group (DRG), and was serving as the director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People, is survived by his mother and two siblings.
Born in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, he was diagnosed with spina bifida. Abidi wasn’t operated on for eight years, and as a result, suffered nerve damage. At the age of ten, he injured himself in a fall and required another operation. After this, his family moved to the United States and Javed Abidi received care at the Boston Children’s Hospital and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. At the age of 15, he started using a wheelchair. Abidi, despite difficulties, studied at Wright State University, and in 1989, moved to India seeking a career in journalism.
The 1990s were marked by drastic changes in the disability sector of India through his DRG. He was instrumental in drafting the 1995 disability Act and forcing the inclusion of missing disabilities like autism, dyslexia in the new RPwD Act 2016. He was appointed the vice-chairman of the International Disability Alliance 2013.
“We have lost the most prominent voice of our sector. We have lost an international leader as he was the sole voice of the Global South. He pioneered the cross-disability movement in India and galvanized disability issues as developmental and human rights based issues. An era ends with Javed ji,” said disability rights’ activist, Dr Satendra Singh, Delhi University.
Abidi successfully led several path breaking advocacy initiatives in India, including the drafting and enactment of the Disability Act of 1995, inclusion of disability as a separate category in the Census; India’s ratification of CRPD in 2007, and setting up of a separate Department of Disability Affairs. Most recently, he led the movement towards India’s new disability rights law – the Persons with Disabilities Act 2016.
Abidi strongly believed that empowerment of persons with disabilities is connected to education, which in turn hinges on accessibility. And all three are not possible without enabling laws and policies.
“The world has lost is brightest crusader for disability rights. As an impassioned advocate of ‘Nothing About Us, Without Us’, he has given voice to an ‘invisible minority’ by catalysing path breaking changes in the policy and legislative space,” said Reeta Gupta, Abidi’s long-term friend and supporter in advocacy of disability rights in India.
Abidi started working for Sonia Gandhi in 1993, creating and building the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation’s disabilities Unit. A year later, he founded a small advocate group called the DRG and started raising awareness for the disabled people of India. A large pro-disability rights movement arose, with the goal of getting the Parliament of India to implement a bill of rights for the disabled.
Abidi led a protest before Parliament on December 19, 1995, that pushed Parliament into passing the Persons with Disabilities Act on December 22, 1995. In 2004, his letter to Chief Justice of India on making the polling booths accessible to persons with disabilities was converted into writ petition. Supreme Court of India then passed direction to make electoral process accessible.