The Punjab police acted true to its reputation on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, when some 200 visually impaired persons staged a protest demonstration to demand implementation of two percent job quota for special persons in all government and semi-government departments. The protesters had also wanted increase in the job quota from the existing two to three percent, and job contract for the Special Education Department’s ad hoc employees. What these defenceless people got was a brutal baton charge by the police who were anxious to clear the road for ‘VIP movement.’ Granted the police had to facilitate VIP movement, but that could be done in a civilised manner, such as providing the demonstrators an alternative route to reach the CM’s secretariat. The response is reflective of a mindset that tells policemen that they are there to serve and protect the rulers rather than the people.
Once the images of the incident started appearing on TV screens, the government became apologetic. While the Prime Minister expressed his concern, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif on a visit to Qatar, ordered an inquiry. Worried about a political fallout, the provincial police chief suspended two ASIs and three constables. These measures can bring about some attitudinal improvement but only for a short while. It will soon be business as usual unless the government reviews basic issues pertaining to training that shapes police behaviour. There is an urgent need to undertake radical reforms aimed at orienting the law enforcement personnel towards public service.
The incident also underscores the system’s apathy towards less fortunate members of society. Soon after the media focus on the baton charge, the government announced acceptance of the protesters’ all three demands. There obviously was nothing unreasonable about them. Following the 18th Amendment, the Punjab government enacted Disabled Persons Employment and Rehabilitation (Amendment) Act, 2012. Implementation, as evident from the protest event, leaves a lot be desired. The situation in other provinces is even worse. Last March, Sindh High Court ordered the provincial government there to enact a new law for provision of employment to people with disabilities, and to comply, in the meanwhile, with provisions of the Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance, 1981. So far there is little compliance. It is hoped that the Pakistan Blind Association’s effort in Lahore to draw attention towards the issue will bear fruit. And that not only the Punjab government will hold good on its promise to accept and implement the demands for a due share in jobs, other provinces would also take necessary measure towards that end. All must provide opportunities to people with disabilities so they can work as productive members of society, making their contributions in different areas of national endeavour.