The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF), defines disability as “the outcome of the interaction between a person with an impairment and the environmental and attitudinal barriers one may face.”
In the light of this definition, I wonder if ‘poverty’ too may be called a disability.
Consider this shocking news report from India. Yesterday, Shantala, the only child of a security guard and a garment factory worker, killed herself by hanging. The reason? She was denied permission to attend a subject examination because she had forgotten to bring the hall ticket to the exam centre.
Had Shantala been the daughter of a VIP or had been studying in an elite school, would the rule about hall tickets been applied with the same stringency? Apparently not. I’m told that there are such cases of student negligence every year and there are provisions to allow them to write the exams under certain conditions.
At every place, the poor have to overcome “attitudinal” and “environmental” barriers. Yes, economic backwardness is as debilitating as a physical or mental handicap.
In a country where education for all even at the primary level remains a distant dream, Shantala’s parents need to be commended for the courage with which they continued to send their daughter to school, albeit a government school. Had Shantala completed the examination, a world of opportunities would have been opened to her as completion of higher secondary education is the minimum required qualification for several jobs and vocational courses. She could have even planned to go on to college.
The ungenerosity of an invigilator, who might have been more cautious in interpreting the rule in its spirit than in the letter had Shantala belonged to a different stratum of society, has undone all the years of effort Shantala and her parents put into making their lives thus far.