Of late, the Visually Impaired Persons (VIP) and people with other disabilities took to streets with great frequency. Like others they are also demanding their rights, though there seems to be no relief for them. The state seems reluctant to provide them with their due rights — or, perhaps, it lacks the resources to do so.
The VIPs earlier came out in the streets on March 2, 2015, later on April 13, 2015, and then June 8, 2017, January 11, 2016, August 1, 2016 and December 3, 2016. They have also held a number of protests in the year so far, for implementation of three per cent quota in the government jobs and payment of outstanding salaries. Last major protest that they carried out was on December 3, 2017 which was the World Disability Day.
As per official claims, it was on January 4, 2017 that the Services and General Administration Department (S&GAD) sent a letter to all commissioners of the province in which they were instructed about continuation of salaries to the VIPs. After the issuance of the letter, 690-odd VIPs were hired.
Chaudhary Muhammad Usman, Joint Secretary Pakistan Blind Association (PBA), complains about the government apathy and says it is fudging figures. A very small number of the blind were hired in grade 1 to 4 on daily wages. They were recruited as baildars, peons and chowkidars, while the qualification of many was masters and graduation.
Usman says his qualification is triple MA and he has got masters degrees in political science, education and special education. Yet, he has been working as a junior clerk in District Sports Committee Fund for three years on daily wages. He has not got salary for three months because of unavailability of funds. He did not get a job according to his qualification.
Usman demands decent work for the VIPs from government of Punjab. He says blind people can be recruited as phone operators and computer operators in government offices. They can be excellent teachers as well. The government needs to make them assets rather than a liability.
He puts the number of the VIPs in the province at around 25,000 and urges the government to make a comprehensive plan and create employment opportunities for them. “We shouldn’t need to beg. We want jobs according to our abilities,” he pleads.
On the other hand, the government of Punjab claims it is doing a lot for the betterment of disabled people. An official from Social Welfare Department claims that in total 11,550 jobs have been given to the VIPs since 2015. The government has given incentives to them as well. They are given 10-year age relaxation in government jobs. Even the exam fee of Punjab Public Service Commission has been waived off for them. They can take admission in any public university of the province at any age. They also enjoy 50 per cent concession in fare whether they in travel by road, air or railway.
Usman challenges the official figure and says it is jugglery of words. “In reality a tiny fraction of the jobs claimed by government have been given to the VIPs.” He says, “The VIPs are not given concessions during travel by road. When they ask for this they are mocked at and asked to get off from the vehicle.”
Dr Khalid Jamil Akhtar known as Big Brother for his life-long struggle for the disabled thinks the government of Punjab is defensive rather than aggressive in this case. He says it provides jobs to 50 to 60 persons after every protest. This is not enough and that is why protests resume after short intervals.
He says job is given to only those who are organised under an organisation and group while the other VIPs are totally ignored. He laments that only 5 per cent of the VIPs are given jobs and Khidmat cards. According to him, Rs1200 is given per blind per Khidmat card every month. “The government should increase the amount to at least Rs15,000. The VIPs deserve more amount than other ordinary citizens of the state because they need caregivers as well.”
He gives a slogan to the government on behalf of VIPS: “Plan for us not without us. When the government intends to make plan/policy for VIPs, bureaucracy shall not decide. It is our need; we know what our requirements are.”