Why Calling Persons With Disability ‘Divyang’ Does Nothing To Empower Them

Posted on June 6, 2016 in Disability Rights

By Rahul Debasish Mazumdar:

Modi on Divyang
Image Source: Getty/Google

The recent controversy regarding the re-naming or should I say ‘re-christening’ of people with disabilities as ‘divyang’ is the product of the deep-rooted human nature of portraying sympathy towards those who are or whom we consider wretched or ill-fated. While on the surface, the entire discussion may appear to be superfluous and does not even warrant a dialogue but looking deeper, one realizes that there is a very crucial question being asked; which although addressed many times in the past needs to be reiterated time and again as human memory is very short and can be influenced very easily.

The issue involves the renaming of the ‘Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities’ (Viklangjan Sashaktikaran Vibhag) to the ‘Divyangjan Sashaktikaran Vibhag’ in Hindi dropping the earlier insensitive term ‘Viklang.’ This development came after the Prime Minister in one of his Mann Ki Baat appeals called disabled people as ‘Divyang’ i.e. a person with divine qualities. While one may argue that the term used earlier i.e. ‘Viklang’ was derogatory and insulting, isn’t the new term ‘Divyang’ both misleading and patronising?

There are arguments, both for and against the renaming. The ones espousing the change cite this as an opportunity to create an environment of dignity and respect for the ones with disabilities. They ostensibly believe that a mere change in name would undo the hardships and social ridicule that such people face on a daily basis. The ones against are mostly rights groups who argue that the use of a term like ‘Divyang’ would be patronising and would be equivalent to accepting that people with disabilities are ‘ill-prepared by God’. They further argue that such a change would hardly have any effect on the level of discrimination and stigma faced by people with disabilities.

But how did this idea of re-naming emerge? Mindless condescending towards people considered inferior has been an age-old practice and is not typical to the BJP or Narendra Modi. Mahatma Gandhi’s attempt to re-name the backward classes as ‘Harijan’ or ‘God’s people’ was vehemently opposed by the people of those communities as it was seen by many to be a condescending move that blames the Lord for all the hardships faced by these classes, instead of putting the spotlight on those who actually perpetrated crimes against these groups. Using a term like ‘Backward Class’ or ‘Scheduled Class’ instead, is an acceptance of the hardships faced by these communities in the past which is the first step towards taking measures to upgrade and assimilate them into the society.

But I am very surprised by the use of such a euphemistic term by a person who has always prided himself on being a commoner and has never minced words about his humble upbringings. Indeed, the entire 2014 Lok Sabha campaign was built around the Chai-Wala’s ‘Chai Pe Charchas’ in which by being brutally honest about his humble beginnings, the then Gujarat Chief Minister ascended to become one of India’s most popular Prime Ministers. One is then bound to feel that such ‘I come from a poor family’ sloganeering is just for garnering sympathy, which in the case of India are easily transformed into votes and not an honest approach towards everyday life.

Re-naming and sugar-coating doesn’t change the realities faced by anyone. And in this case, as the people most affected by the renaming do not approve of it (going by the statements of many stakeholders and groups who work for the rights of disabled people), it makes no sense to change it. A change in attitude and increase in awareness is what the government must vouch for. And in Tyrion Lannister’s words:

“Let me give you some advice, bastard. Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armour and it can never be used to hurt you.”

If Rahul’s arguments seem just and valid to you, maybe you’d like to read the article below as well:

Should People With Disabilities Be Called ‘Divyang’? We Asked, You Answered

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