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Outrage over PM Modi's insensitive remarks on dyslexia, disability groups demand apology

A mocking comment by Prime Minister Narendra Modiregarding dyslexia has disability rights groups in India fuming.

The comment was made during a video conference interaction with students at the Smart India Hackathon 2019 organised by the India Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee. A BTech student from Uttarakhand was explaining to the PM that her project related to people with dyslexia and said, "I feel really blessed to get this opportunity to… express my words in front of you…. Basically, our idea is based on dyslexic people. Dyslexic children are those whose learning and writing pace is very slow. But their intelligence and creativity levels are quite high". She then went on to cite the example of a character from the film Taare Zameen Par.

Video recordings of the event show that the PM interrupted her and said, "Could this idea help any 40 or 50-year-old child?" He them started laughing and many in the audience joined him. He went on to say, "Will this scheme work for 40-50 years old children" and continued to laugh.

The video soon went viral and many people, including disability rights groups, have interpreted the comments as a dig at and his mother Sonia Gandhi. There were comments on social media criticising PM Modi for taking pot shots at political rivals in such a manner.

Vinod Kapri said, "Can't believe. PRIME MINISTER making fun of Dyslexia", while Saurabh Pratap Singh tweeted, "I am dyslexic. I suffer from ADHD. This man, @narendramodi, is my PM. He clearly doesn't know s*!t about it!!". Roshan Rai added, "A Prime Minister mocking dyslexia is nothing short of insensitive and shameful. Nothing funny or 'savage' in it".

There was also anger expressed over the laughter and claps by the students present. One tweet said, "The worst part is… educated youth clapping over his remarks".

The PM's remark has been condemned in the strongest possible terms by national cross disability rights platform National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD). By taking pot-shots at his political rivals instead of answering a student's question, the Prime Minister's behaviour was unpardonable, said the NPRD.

This disgusting attitude comes from a person who had equated disability with divinity and coined the term "divyang". Even during the 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign Narendra Modi had used terms like blind, deaf, lame etc. to belittle his rivals. It is a reflection of a totally regressive mindset. - National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD)

The NPRD letter does not spare PM Modi's political rival and the target of his remarks Congress President Rahul Gandhi either, for referring to the PM as "schizophrenic", in the recent past.

Violation of RPWD Act 2016

Disability rights crusader Dr Satendra Singh voiced his disappointment as well.

"By making fun of Specific Learning Disabilities, our PM has just reinforced a stereotype. Our PM who coined "divyang" word (for reasons best known to him) for people with disabilities took a jibe at this invisible disability by referring it indirectly to his political rival (will it help 40-50 year old too?). In a display of insensitive portrayal, the entire audience erupted in laughter. The PM didn't stop here and after a moment further continued perpetuating ableist attitude by saying that such children's mother will be very happy. This disrespect for the parents (especially mothers) of people having learning disability is least expected of a person holding the post of PM".

Well-known TV commentator Sumanth Raman has called it a new low in the political discourse and points to role models who have defied notions around dyslexia. "Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Lee Kuan Yew, Alexander Graham Bell, Tom Cruise and many great men and women were all believed to be dyslexic and look what they made of their lives."

The NPRD has demanded an apology from the Prime Minister, saying it is the least he can do. "The PM should under no circumstances should be making such a remark. It also displays scant respect for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 according to which this constitutes an offence".

So far there are no signs that an apology will be forthcoming but the growing outrage over the remarks is a welcome sign from a community that is usually reluctant to speak out in a strong united voice against such offensive remarks.

ALSO READ: Disabled people are routine targets of abuse by Indian politicians despite laws banning this

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