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Calling People With Disabilities 'Divyangjan' Is A Cruel Joke

26/05/2016 12:39 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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Rupak De Chowdhuri / Reuters
A physically disabled man takes part in a protest rally at a railway station on the outskirts of the eastern Indian city of Siliguri April 7, 2009. Hundreds of physically disabled people from a non-government organisation (NGO) took part in a protest rally on Tuesday to demand the railway board for disability concessions for travel on passenger trains. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri (INDIA CONFLICT HEALTH SOCIETY)

The term "disability" is accepted universally and has created a culture of awareness which allows various communities and agencies to work towards common goals. Rather than focusing on changing the name of the Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry to Divyangjan Sashaktikaran Vibhag, the need of the hour is to ensure that all the welfare activities and other initiatives that the ministry undertakes are rolled out efficiently and in a time-bound manner. Without challenging the government's intent, I can't comprehend the need for this name change.

It is time we accept the disabled just as they are, without prejudices. When we accept diversity, why can't disability be accepted as an element of the same?

If the opinion of the disabled community is taken, then it would dawn on the proponents of this move that these people don't like adjectives such as special people, persons with special needs, differently-abled or for that matter divyangjan (divine bodied) being used in reference to them. They don't want to be ghettoized. It is time we accept the disabled just as they are, without prejudices. When we accept diversity, why can't disability be accepted as an element of the same? Unless the disabled are accepted the way they are, it will not be possible to integrate them into the mainstream despite anyone's best intentions and efforts.

Renaming a ministry will not yield desired results because it is not only superficial but also alienates the disabled. This generates more disharmony by creating additional layers in society. What is the need to assign superhuman qualities to the disabled when they simply have certain limitations? All that's needed is an enabling environment so that like the rest of the people they too can realize their true potential.

Instead of reducing the feeling of inadequacy, the term divyangjan is deepening the divide... [it's] a cruel joke.

Instead of reducing the feeling of inadequacy, the term divyangjan is deepening the divide. As my friend Arman Ali who runs a non-profit Shishu Sirohi rightly pointed out, addressing the disabled as divyangjan is a cruel joke.

In reality, most disabled people have difficulty in accessing education and as a result remain unemployed, thus making economic viability an obscure dream. When eking out a living with dignity is far-fetched, adding tags of divinity doesn't help. When the disabled are not shying away from their reality, why should the government impose the term divyangjan on them? There is no need for a new terminology to be woven around their reality -- they neither want nor need it.

My friend, the late Michael Winters had tied himself to a tree to demand access to education in UC Berkeley. He later went on to work in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Transportation, USA. He overcame his disability and all his life worked towards securing the rights of the disabled by working tirelessly to remove barriers and develop an inclusive society.

It's time we treated the disabled persons as fellow humans -- no more and no less.

Concerted efforts should be made to provide equitable access to public resources and opportunities to people with disabilities and that can only happen when they are accepted in the society just as they are and not as superhumans or lesser humans. My mentor, Lalita Sen, a professor at Texas Southern University, Houston, rightly says, "It's an inappropriate label. In Europe and the US, different categories of disability have been given certain benefits alongside infrastructure which has been developed as per the tenets of universal design. This in turn allows the disabled like everyone else use the same facilities with equal ease."

It's time we treated the disabled persons as fellow humans -- no more and no less.

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