The Silent Struggle: India's Imperative for Disability Rights and Integration

Unveiling the urgency for disability rights reform in India, this piece highlights the critical need for inclusion, showcasing the grim reality of institutions like Asha Kiran and advocating for a transformative approach to equality and dignity for the disabled.

The Silent Struggle: India's Imperative for Disability Rights and Integration
Man Sitting on Wheelchair. © Alexandre Saraiva Carniato, October 5th, 2019, via Pexels, at


Shahad Ghannam

Legal Human Rights Researcher 

Global Human Rights Defence

The plight of individuals with disabilities in India highlights the urgent need for systemic reform and a shift towards inclusive practices. In the heart of the nation's capital, nearly a thousand residents find themselves in perpetual confinement within a government-run shelter named Asha Kiran, which ironically means '’ray of hope'’. Originally meant to offer shelter, this facility has become a forced permanent residence for those abandoned by their families due to disabilities. Prejudice and misconceptions about disabilities lead to the marginalisation of disabled individuals and create barriers to their rights and opportunities for education, employment, and social integration. A recent recommendation by the governing board stresses the necessity for deinstitutionalisation, advocating for community-based assisted living to foster independence and social integration for those with intellectual and psychological disabilities.

The broader issue extends beyond Asha Kiran, reflecting a nationwide challenge with hundreds of custodial institutions where people with disabilities endure life in conditions linked to incarceration. The Supreme Court's directive, on January 19, 2024, for a comprehensive evaluation of these institutions marks a critical step toward acknowledging and addressing these grave concerns. Nonetheless, reports from Human Rights Watch, since 2013, reveal the dire circumstances in this specific facility, including overcrowding, inadequate hygiene, and a severe lack of trained staff, further exacerbating the isolation and neglect faced by its residents.

India has taken legislative strides, such as the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act of 2016 to meet the state's obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), to safeguard and protect these individuals. However, discriminatory behaviour and structural barriers persist, hampering access to education, healthcare, and employment. At the same time, technological and transportation inadequacies further restrict their independence and participation in society. This is in contravention of several provisions of the UNCRC, most notably, Article 5 (equality and non-discrimination), 10 (right to life, i.e. life and dignity), and 19 (living independently and being included in the community).

The case of S.N. Saibaba, a former Delhi University professor, highlights the systemic neglect and discrimination against persons with disabilities. Despite being wheelchair-bound and heavily reliant on others for basic needs, Saibaba experienced prolonged detention under harsh conditions since his conviction in 2017, underlining the broader issue of inadequate care and support for disabled individuals. His eventual acquittal on March 7, 2024, raises questions about the state's and, by extension, the justice system's treatment of individuals with disabilities and calls for a reevaluation of their rights and dignity.

The collective evidence paints a grim picture of the challenges faced by persons with disabilities in India, urging the imperative for comprehensive reforms. These reforms must prioritise the transition from charity-based rights to a rights-based approach, ensuring that disability does not equate to inability but is recognised within the spectrum of human diversity that deserves equal rights, opportunities, and dignity. The journey towards inclusivity, equal participation, and upholding of rights for disabled individuals remains long, necessitating a concentrated effort from the government, civil society, and communities to dismantle the barriers of discrimination and build a truly accessible and equitable society founded on ideals of basic respect.

Sources and further readings:

[1] Human Rights Watch, 'India: End Lifelong Warehousing of People with Disabilities' (Human Rights Watch, 28 January 2024) <> (accessed 11 March 2024)

[2] Sri Ramakrishna Hospital, 'What are the Challenges Faced by People with Disabilities' (2023) <> (accessed 12 March 2024)

[3] Shantha, Sukanya, '‘It Is Only by Chance That I Came Out of Prison Alive’: G.N. Saibaba', The Wire (7 March 2024) <> (accessed 12 March 2024).

[4] Hallan, Amrit, ‘Does Indian Mythology Really Have a Problem with Disability?’ (2016) Thoughts And Ideas blog <> (accessed 12 March 2024).

[5]United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (adopted 13 December 2006, entered into force 3 May 2008) 2515 UNTS 3.