The State Of Differently-Abled Students In India: Is Sympathy The Only Necessity?

Posted on May 20, 2013 in Education, Society

By Tadrash Shah:

Differently-abled is essentially a kind-hearted term used for the disabled. We would all agree that it is so and there is nothing wrong or hyperbolic in putting it this way, because we have all experienced that the blind have a stronger sense of smell, the deaf can read lip movements and someone who has lost one of their limbs has the other one potent and formidable. Hence, ‘disabled’ is a term based on physical appearance while differently-abled is based on some special unusual capacities. Having put it this way, there has been a debate whether one should have a sympathetic attitude towards these people or be upfront and call them disabled. This argument was raised in an episode of the popular television show Satyamev Jayate.

accessWhence we all applauded the arguments that were put forth in that particular episode of the series, we must demist the haze of compassion and be rational even though it may sound harsh on our soft sensitivities towards the differently-abled. We do have special laws for facilitating these people, however, out of kindness, every human tries to extend the help, and at times in collective ways too. Laws have been at succour with concession in public transport, advantages in government services, subsidizing such schools etc. But when it was on national television where these people and their advocates put their demands, they were more driven by sympathy rather than rationale which can surely be not the way an economy can function. I felt it tickling our emotions rather than giving some concrete reasonable outputs. Tickling, as I call it, may have had behavioural changes in humans.

Let me put forward some arguments, at my cost and consequences, and later on, I shall provide some examples to justify them. A person argued that these disabled people must be allowed to attend normal schools rather than making them attend special schools which make them feel distant from the society. I agree partly- how can a blind or deaf man/woman attend a normal school or college which has the ‘chalk and talk’ method of imparting education? Yes, we can allow the person with one or no hands or legs there. Another one questioned as to why there are no ramps in public places for handicapped people. That is true but hardly feasible, the reason being that constructing a ramp is the costliest component in any building and owing to the fact that we are not a very sound economy, we cannot afford it for a few people. And further, there are alternative, special arrangements for such people at railway stations and airports. Another argument was that these people should be allowed in government jobs with due dignity and no bigotry. I agree here but we are already doing that not just in government jobs, but also in the private sector.

I had a classmate who was handicapped but she used to attend all the classes on ground floor of my college and the classes that were on first floor, the teachers used to teach her separately during their free time. Moreover, during exams our authorities did make separate arrangements for her to sit and write her paper. What more can we do? We cannot argue that our college did not build a ramp for her to climb to first storey. I know a lady who suffered from polio and was a tutor in a Government Medical College and was then promoted to the position of the assistant professor and associate professor. There was no discrimination at all. My uncle who suffered from polio was a sales-tax inspector. The music teacher in my school was blind and the school made arrangements for his stay and food in the premises itself without any deduction in his salary. Hence, the allegation that we discriminate when it comes to providing jobs to the disabled is baseless.

In colleges and all other places, we can make similar arrangements, wherever feasible but we cannot demand a complete change in the existing infrastructure for a few people just because we sympathize with them. And it is not that we deprive them of their fundamental rights, we have separate schools for them. We are not cutting them away from the mainstream, we are in fact trying to merge them into the mainstream, it is just that the route is different.

We must instead learn to make them stand on their own. Why hurt their esteem when we can make them realize their self-worth instead? I don’t deny the facilities we must give them, as a part of our existential duty, but merely having the sympathetic outlook cannot do, we cannot afford it.

Reminds me of a few lines from a poem by C. Cibber where a blind boy declares how he must be treated —

“With heavy sighs I often hear
You mourn my hapless woe;
But sure with patience I can bear
A loss I ne’er can know.”