Disabled People’s Organizations and SDGs in India: Our Experience

Author: Ketan Kothari  (Manager, Advocacy, Sightsavers India – @muktaketan  @sightsaversIN)

The process of drafting and negotiating the Sustainable Development Goals was markedly more consultative than that which led to their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals; and within the spirit of “leave no one behind”, one of the most active groups of stakeholders was that of people with disabilities.  Through our extensive advocacy, we ensured that their issues were not only considered but were explicitly mentioned in 11 places and implicitly there are many more references to the issues faced by people with disabilities.  Nevertheless, this advocacy was carried out globally at a fairly higher level.  In order to measure efficacy of this advocacy at ground level, it is necessary to consult with people with disabilities in small towns and villages.  

Since India is one of the countries that have opted for the Voluntary National Review (VNR) of 2030 Agenda this year, it provided a great opportunity for civil society to objectively review first 1.5 years of its implementation with various stakeholders; and as stated above people with disabilities are very important stakeholders in the process.  

In our country, we have more than 26 million people with disabilities and they are spread across small towns and villages with very limited resources, implementation of SDGs will certainly have major repercussions.  

Keeping all this in mind, Sightsavers India decided to conduct consultations in two states of India with rural based Disabled People’s Organizations (DPOs):  2 in Rajasthan, (the largest state of India in terms of its area) and 1 in Odisha on the eastern coast.  These consultations were conducted in the first week of May 2017.

The experience of these consultations was quite revealing:  on one hand, in many cases, this was the first exposure that DPO members were getting to SDGs (especially in Rajasthan) but on the other hand, once acquainted with them, their grasp was great and the suggestions received from them were very encouraging.  There was also a feeling that they should be exposed to such international documents on a more frequent basis in order to be able to run their organizations more successfully.  

The consultations were revealing in another way:  although there are many schemes that both Indian Central and State governments have implemented, in most of these schemes, disability has appeared as an afterthought. Of course, there are quite a few schemes specially designed for disabled but mainstream schemes lack a special disability thrust. Consequently, we find that it becomes unduly difficult for people with disability to access them.  

Further, SDGs do not seem to have percolated to local government and hence they have not made any significant alterations in the existing programmes and schemes.  This has obviously resulted in people with disabilities losing out on many benefits.  To illustrate the point, although there is certain quota for women in local government, women with disabilities tend to be left out in most cases.  In addition, accessibility in various public places is still a distant dream for most people with disabilities.

Another significant aspect brought out by the participants in both places was that there was no consistency in policy implementation which resulted in differential treatment of people with disabilities as against other marginalized groups.  Those who took part in our consultation were of the opinion that all marginalized groups should be treated equally so that there would be holistic development.

In addition, some of the key points for us were:

  1. This was probably for the first time that most of the participants were acquainted with SDGs and it would have been better had they been informed in advance prior to the consultation.
  2. DPOs have to be exposed more and more to happenings around them in order to make them increasingly relevant social organizations.
  3. There was an obvious difference in the knowledge of people with disabilities in Rajasthan as compared to Odisha, where education levels are higher. This disparity proves the need to have more educated members and encourage them to become part of DPO movement to carry out self-advocacy. Moreover, we highlight the importance of inclusive education!

Overall, the experience of these consultation was fulfilling for us. This has given us good insights into thinking of our friends with disabilities at the local level which, in turn will help us to further strengthen our programme and advocacy efforts to achieve the empowerment of people with disabilities.

These recommendations, coming out of consultations are part of the civil society report prepared by Wada-Na-Todo,  a civil society consortium of organization. The report was released on July 6, and will be presented to NITI Aayog, a new National Commission, which core focus is SDG implementation.


About the author: Ketan Kothari is himself blind and is working in Sightsavers India office as Advocacy Manager.  He is active in the disability-rights sector in India in which he has worked in the sector for the past 25 years.  



Together 2030 is a civil society initiative that brings together more than 450 organisations from 89 countries to promote national implementation and track progress of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


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