Centre for Internet & Society

A report on the nationwide Right to Read campaign which had its second road show at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata on 7th November, 2009 from 11.00 a.m. to 2.00 p.m.

The Problem

Millions of Indians are unable to read printed material due to disabilities. Technologies are in place  which can help them read printed matter if the material gets converted into  alternate formats such as large print, audio, Braille or  other electronic formats. Whereas the Constitution of India declares “right to read”  a fundamental right, the provisions of the Indian Copyright Act, 1957 does not permit  conversion of books into accessible formats for the benefit of persons with print impairment, as a result of which a “book famine” is created. International conventions to which India is a signatory to specifically requires it to amend its copyright laws for the benefit of persons with disabilities and  make available information and materials to persons with disabilities on an equal basis as others.

Publishers too do not make books available in accessible formats as a result of which less than 0.5 per cent of books are available in accessible formats in India. As a result, persons with print impairments get excluded from the education system and this has a big impact on their career choices.

The Campaign

To solve this problem, the Indian Copyright Act, 1957 should be amended to permit the conversion and distribution of materials in all formats for making it accessible for persons with print impairment. Hence, the Daisy Forum of India, The Centre for Internet & Society and Bookbole have taken the initiative to be part of the global “Right to Read” campaign launched by the World Blind Union.

The ‘Right to Read’ campaign seeks to:

  • Accelerate change in the copyright law;
  • Raise public awareness on the issue of access to reading for the print-impaired; and
  • Gather Indian support for the Treaty for the Blind proposed by the World Blind Union at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

In West Bengal, this campaign was initiated by Campaigners for Inclusion (a volunteer initiative by CRY and Sruti Disability Rights Centre) and hosted by the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS).

The Programme

A meeting was held at the National University of Juridical Sciences on 7th November from 11.00 a.m. to 2.00 p.m. The Chief Guest of the meeting was Dr. Suranjan Das, Vice Chancellor of the University of Calcutta. Other dignitaries present at the meeting were Nirmita Narasimhan, Programme Manager, The Centre for Internet & Society and Rahul Cherian, Co-Founder, Inclusive Planet and Book Bole.

A lively panel discussion followed. The speakers included Ms. Chandrima Bhattacharya, Senior Assistant Editor, The Telegraph, Mr. S.B. Pattnayak, Principal, Ramakrishna Mission, Narendrapur, Dr. S.S. Roy, Chairman, National Children’s Computer Society and Dr. Rukmini Sen, Assistant Professor, (Social Sciences), WBNUJS.

A skit on this issue was presented by the Campaigners for Inclusion and a musical programme by Sayoni Palit, a visually impaired student of the Bachelor of Music, enthralled the audience.

The meeting was attended by 120 people including members of Blind Persons Association, National Association for Blind, Welfare Society for the Blind, Behala Blind School, Lighthouse for the Blind, Society for Visually Handicapped, National Institute for the Blind, Louis Braille Memorial School, Noble Mission of Calcutta and Mentaid along with several college students and teachers.

A signature campaign on the petition to amend the Copyright Act started in Kolkata on that day. Sruti Disability Rights Centre has taken the initiative to organize more awareness meetings, particularly in different colleges as well as at the Kolkata Book Fair in the coming months.

Media Coverage

Radio channels like Gyan Bharati organized a talk show on this issue besides announcing about the programme on its channel for one week. Red FM was the official radio partner and gave ample coverage to this event. One English newspaper and one Urdu newspaper covered this news.

  • Times of India - 7th Nov 2009

Copyright obstacle for Braille, audio books - by Arpit Basu

KOLKATA: For the 12 lakh-odd visually-challenged and dyslexic persons in the state, access to good Indian literature in Braille or audio format is a challenge. Obtaining copyright to convert books into special format is the biggest hindrance, say activists working for disability rights.

"Even the National Library does not have any Braille or audio books. Authorities argue that the number of such special books is too less to create full-fledged sections," said Shampa Sengupta of Sruti. When it comes to audio-version, the scenario is worse, says Lina Bardhan from Noble Mission that works with the mentally challenged.

City Braille publishers say legal formalities prove to be an obstacle."We believe that as a humanitarian gesture, the Copyright Act of 1957 should be relaxed for books meant for the differently-abled," said Amiyo Biswas of Blind Persons' Association, one of the three Braille publishers in the city.

In April 2008, UK-based Sight Savers International urged the UN to sign a treaty so that persons with disabilities can access books and documents easily.

Now, Center for Internet Society (CIS) has carried out campaigns in Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai. On Saturday, a seminar will be held in Kolkata. "We want to organize a pan-India movement and amend the Copyright Act to establish the right to read," said CIS programme manager Nirmita Narasimhan.

Click here for the original article

Coverage in the November Issue of: CBR Forum - E- News Bulletin


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