The World Lost it’s Brightest Crusader of Disability Rights

Remembering Javed Abidi (1965-2018)

Javed Abidi, Global Chair of Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI) and Director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), India passed away on Sunday, 4th March, 2018. He was just 53 years of age.

Abidi was a pioneer in many ways and was known for his innate ability to speak truth to power. He forever questioned the status quo and encouraged others to do the same. It were these characteristics, along with his sharp acumen, clarity of thought and ability to mobilise communities, that led him to create Disabled Rights Group (DRG), India’s first platform for cross-disability advocacy in 1993 and fight for India’s first ever law on disability.

He was instrumental in setting up of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) in 1996 and had been its Director since 1997. He was also the Convenor of the National Disability Network founded in 1999 and the National Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (NCRPD), a think tank of leaders and experts from the disability sector working on mainstreaming disability issues and developing advocacy campaigns.

Interestingly, his foray into disability was quite by chance when he gave up his life-long ambition of becoming a journalist in order to set up the Disability Unit at the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation. However, it will not be an exaggeration to say that his 25 years of journey in the disability rights movement in India reads like a chronology of each important milestone that has elevated the discourse on disability issues to the level that it is at today. His path-breaking work includes passage of the Disability Act of 1995 and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016;  inclusion of disability in the Census and the Five Year Plans; creating the movement towards accessible India in terms of public spaces, transport, etc.; making elections accessible; bringing about the government of India policy on website accessibility; creation of a separate Department on Disability Affairs. Most recently, he led the movement towards India’s new disability rights law – The Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act, 2016.

Abidi took his brand of no-nonsense advocacy on to the international space as well. In 2011, Mr.  Abidi was elected the Global Chair of Disabled Peoples’ International, a position he had been re-elected to for the second time in 2016: a position held by an Indian/South Asian for the first time in DPI’s 37 year history. He led and galvanised the voices of people with disabilities especially from the Global South where nearly 800 million of the world’s 1 billion people with disabilities live. He coaxed and at times compelled the larger disability movement to start talking about issues of people with disabilities from the Global South. Under his leadership, DPI hosted the first Global Forum on Disability, the first and only such initiative for voices so far unheard in the global disability movement. He had also been instrumental in promoting cross-disability civil society participation from the Global South at multi-lateral platforms such as the Conference of States Parties to the CRPD.

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.And pressure can be built through awareness. In his death, the global disability movement has lost a rare and exceptional champion of the rights of the persons with disabilities.

‘Javed’ means ‘immortal’ and his name has proven to be prescient as he continues to live through the unparalleled legacy that he created in a short span of time.

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