On hudud and disability

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SINCE the announcement by the Kelantan government on its intention to implement hudud in the state, it has been one slugfest after another between politicians from both sides of the divide either supporting or rebuffing the law.

In spite of all the exchanges in the mass media, there is practically no information on the mechanisms and technicalities on the implementation of the Islamic penal law in a language that the man in the street can understand for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Repeated assurances that non-Muslims will not be affected may not be wholly accurate. My concern in this matter is purely from the perspective of disability and the implications to the psychosocial aspects resulting from amputations should the law come into force.

Amputation is a permanent, lifelong condition. The Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 defines persons with disabilities as to “include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society”.

The registration guidelines issued by the Welfare Department recognises that the loss of a limb resulting in the person being unable to perform basic activities is a condition accepted under the physical disability category.

Persons becoming impaired under this circumstance should, in principle, enjoy the rights, entitlements and benefits as promulgated in the Act and welfare policies. There should not be discrimination on how the impairments were acquired. After all, the dues for the crimes committed were already fully paid in the eyes of the law.

New amputees require a host of support from medical treatments to psychological and physical rehabilitation. Further down the road, a prosthetic hand or foot would be essential in improving their functionality and independence to effectively pave their return to mainstream society.

There is a price to all these therapies and assistive devices. A rehabilitation equipment supplier I spoke to indicated that the cost of a prosthetic hand is between RM3,500 and RM4,500 depending on the complexities of the mechanical functions required.

As yet, there has been no mention on the source of funding for post-amputation outlay for such cases. In the current state of affairs, resources and facilities for persons with disabilities in Malaysia are severely wanting due to the low priority accorded by the government and even the private sector in resolving outstanding problems.

Unless there is a radical revamp of the support system to upgrade services and resource distribution, the increase in number of amputees could put an extra strain on the system. With the limited resources spread even thinner, the larger community of people with disability issues requiring support will be further affected, irrespective of their faith and ethnicity.

Prejudices, misconceptions and myths about disability are still widespread. Among others, some communities believe that being disabled is a form of punishment for purported sins committed past or present.

There was an incident in Parliament some years back. During a heated debate, Datuk Badruddin Amiruldin told the late Karpal Singh that he is sitting in a wheelchair because it was a punishment from God. Badruddin later apologised for that offensive remark after an uproar from the disabled community. The apology notwithstanding, it was a clear reflection of how some segments of society view disability.

The truth is that living is full of risks. Some impairments are congenital in nature. Others are acquired through diseases, accidents or old age. That is life. Punitive limb amputations will undeniably reinforce the mistaken belief that being disabled is a punishment regardless whether one was convicted or is law-abiding citizen. Disability rights advocates then will have to work doubly hard in debunking these prejudices.

Further to that, people losing limbs in incidents unrelated to crime will be unwittingly stigmatised as criminals as well. Humans being humans, there is a tendency to tar all with similar impairments with the same broad stroke.

Employment opportunities for persons with disabilities are hard to come by due to negative perceptions and environmental barriers as it is. Amputees will find it even more difficult to be gainfully employed because of the stigma although they may be God-fearing people who have not broken any law.

Nevertheless, it is also important to ensure that people having served their punishments are able to make an honest living so that they do not return to a life of crime. Seeing how hard it has been for persons with disabilities to find work presently, there is a need for more effective policies and incentives to encourage potential employers to accept them.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was correct in stating that there are many issues that need to be solved before hudud can be implemented.

People are scared of what they do not know. The dearth of official information has given rise to misunderstandings and speculation as to how it will be carried out. The parties pushing for its implementation should be more forthcoming with the details and convincingly address the issues arising to allay those fears.

Having said all that, I personally would not wish impairment on anyone. It is a life full of needless challenges only those who are living it will understand.

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