Tuesday, 6 December, 2022

Cultural Relativism & Persons With Disabilities

Mukunda Hari Dahal


This year the world is marking the International Day of Persons with Disabilities tomorrow with the slogan of 'the future is accessible', which indicates that persons with disabilities should have access to all aspects of life. This is a time to speak out for the elimination of all types of discrimination meted out to the people on the basis of their disabilities. Here this scribe seeks to focus on the cultural aspect, accessibility and the other issues of persons/women with disabilities.
As we know, culture is identity and core part of human beings. In modern society, it has many dimensions. Human rights are one of the most important elements. Culture has to be positive, justifiable and rational. Thus, cultural relativism is an important factor of human rights. 'All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,' states Article 1 of UDHR. It spells out that persons/women with disabilities are equal as other humans to practice culture as human rights and live with happiness. Human diversity is a character of any society. Disabled persons form one component of the larger composition.
In Nepal, as per Act on the Rights of Persons with Disability 2074, persons with ten types of disabilities are entitled to get four types of cards (red, blue, yellow and white) as identity of disability. Persons with disabilities are facing barriers in their participation as equal members of the society. Women/girls with disabilities are facing multiple forms of discrimination. The nature of culture is inherent as well as relative to different aspects of human rights. The full promotion of and respect for cultural rights is essential for the maintenance of human dignity and positive social interaction between individuals (including persons/women with disabilities) and communities in a diverse and multicultural world.

Culture provides its members with meaningful ways of life across the full range of human activities, including social, educational, religious, recreational, and economic life in both public and private spheres. Right to take part in cultural life is closely related to other rights, for example right to enjoy, right to mobility and right to property, etc. Disability and cultural relativism is another debatable issue of the community. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) emphasises the importance of mainstreaming disability issues as an essential part of relevant strategies of sustainable development and recognises discrimination against any person on the basis that disability is a violation of the inherent dignity and worth of the human person.
Family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society that needs to be protected by society and the state. Persons with disabilities and their family members should receive the necessary protection and assistance to enable families to contribute towards full and equal enjoyment of their rights. The right of everyone to take part in cultural life is linked to the right to education through which individuals and communities pass on their values, religions, customs, language and other cultural references, which help to raise an atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect for cultural values.
Culture shapes the values of the economic, social and political life of all including persons/women with disabilities. The decision by a person whether or not to exercise the right to take part in cultural life individually, or in association with others, is a cultural choice and, as such, should be recognised, respected and protected by the state on the basis of equality. Everyone has the right to act freely, to choose his or her own cultural identity and engage in one’s own cultural practices. The state has to take all appropriate measures, including the enactment of legislation, regulations or modification of customs and practices that create discrimination against persons/women with disabilities and encourage utilising the maximum available resources to protect, promote and fulfill the cultural rights. To preserve the equality and non-discrimination, CRPD recommended to reasonable accommodation as human rights and encourage universal standard to all human beings including persons/women with disabilities.
Stereotypes, prejudices and harmful practices play a vital role in marginalising the girls/women with disabilities and other diverse groups of the disable community. The state is responsible to adopt immediate and appropriate measures to raise awareness throughout the society to fight stereotypes, prejudices and harmful practices. Access to places for cultural performances or services, such as theatres, museums, cinemas, libraries and tourism services, and, as far as possible, enjoy access to monuments and sites of national cultural importance and opportunity to develop and utilise their creative, artistic and intellectual potential, not only for their own benefit, but also for the enrichment of society (CRPD art 30), will be of critical importance.
The 28th International Day of Persons with Disabilities is being marked with solidarity for inclusion and message that no one is left behind. It is an opportunity to contextualise the international law and introduce new laws to remove existing discriminatory ones. The most disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and groups including women with disability can and indeed must be protected by the state programmes. State should work in different areas as per need and rationality. For example, educational programmes of the state should respect persons with disabilities, their physical, mental, intellectual or sensory limitation and incorporate in those programmes their history, knowledge and technologies, as well as their social, economic and cultural values and aspirations.

Culture has no fixed borders. Globalisation has brought cultures, groups and individuals closer at a time when each of them is struggling to keep their own identity. Cultural material, television programmes, films, theatres and other cultural activities are playing the role to encourage or discourage the culture. Places where cultural performances or services are offered, such as theatres, museums, cinemas, libraries and tourist services have to be accessible. There is a need for the recognition of their specific cultural and linguistic identity.

(Dahal is Chairperson Parent Federation of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities)