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Shudarson Subedi: Mainstreaming disability rights in Nepal

Posted: 2 December 2020

Nepal, Alumni, COVID-19, Disability, Impact,

Two-time President of National Federation of the Disabled – Nepal, Australia Awards alumnus Shudarson Subedi has advocated for disability rights for more than 25 years. In that time, his efforts have had a major impact on national level policies.

Shudarson grew up in Bardiya District, a plains region in south-west Nepal. When he was six months old, he contracted polio, which caused paralysis in his right leg. With the closest school too far away for him to access, Shudarson had to wait until the age of nine—when a new school opened nearby—to start his formal education.

Living in rural Nepal as a child with disability was difficult for Shudarson. Like many other people with disability, he experienced the pain of exclusion and discrimination. “I still remember how my school friends underestimated me and excluded me from sports and other activities because of my disability,” he recalls.

With the encouragement of his parents, he learnt to persevere. By the time Shudarson completed high school, he was recognised for his leadership in extracurricular activities and social service. “We planted 1000 trees in our school under my leadership,” he says.

Shudarson did not plan to become an activist. Wanting to be a lawyer, he came to Kathmandu to pursue legal studies. However, a turning point occurred during his bachelor’s degree dissertation research when Shudarson learnt that the Government of Nepal’s 1982 ‘Protection and Welfare of the Disabled Persons Act’ asked educational institutions to provide free education to people with disability. Unfortunately, this was not commonly enforced; Shudarson himself was paying for his law degree. He approached the college management to waive his fees; however, his voice was not heard.

Following this experience, Shudarson filed a public interest litigation (PIL) at Nepal’s Supreme Court requesting a mandamus for free education and training opportunities for people with disability in all public schools, universities and training centres. In November 2003, the court delivered a landmark verdict in his favour. “This was the first PIL of its kind in Nepal,” Shudarson says. The verdict not only enabled people with disability to access free education but also was a milestone in Shudarson’s career. Media widely covered the news and he was even interviewed by the BBC. This introduced him to a network of leading human rights activists from Nepal and beyond. He felt encouraged and determined to devote his career to the cause of people with disability.

“I am highly encouraged and impressed with Australia’s inclusive development, which enables people with disability to enjoy their rights,” he says.

Shudarson has engaged in human rights activism with a strong belief that the rights-based approach, rather than the charity-based approach, best enables people with disability to be part of Nepal’s development process. Through additional PILs filed and won at the Supreme Court, he has helped increase legal provisions for social security allowance for people with disability, and provisions for treatment for people experiencing mental health issues. He also led a campaign for employment opportunities for people with disability. This campaign, which he named ‘One Organisation, One Person with Disability’, resulted in hundreds of people with disability gaining employment opportunities in international and national non-government organisations in Nepal. Shudarson also played a pivotal role in formulating the ‘Human Rights for Persons with Disabilities Act’ (2017) and the ‘Inclusive Education Policy’ (2017).

In 2018, Shudarson attended an Australia Awards Short Course on Inclusive Education in Practice at Queensland University of Technology. He says, “I am highly encouraged and impressed with Australia’s inclusive development, which enables people with disability to enjoy their rights.” Practicing the course’s learnings, Shudarson is currently working towards making the local government responsible for ensuring the rights of people with disability are put into effect. He is also supporting Nepali universities to develop study programs on inclusive education.

Shudarson explains, “There are multiple layers of challenges surrounding people with disability. Therefore, we should have a multi-sectoral approach to address the issues.” To this effect, Shudarson works with provincial and local government representatives to develop appropriate policies and guidelines for the rights of people with disability. To address the problem of children with disability not being able to access alternative education resources during the COVID-19 pandemic, he has also been liaising with Australian alumni and education stakeholders to create training materials for schools. “My Australia Awards experience has inspired me to actively work for inclusive COVID-19 management and response,” Shudarson says.