PM Modi offers no apology for comments on dyslexia, disability group calls for strong protests
Outrage continues to grow among disability rights activists over the lack of any apology from Prime Minister Narendra Modi days after he cracked a joke on dyslexia allegedly at the expense of Congress president Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi.
The video of the joke, widely shared on Twitter continues to evoke strong reactions from many people, including rival political parties, many of whose leaders are guilty of displaying similar insensitivity on many occasions.
During a video conference interaction with students on Saturday last week, PM Modi interrupted a student while she was talking about a program that could help children with dyslexia. A learning difficulty, dyslexia causes problems with certain abilities used for learning, such as reading and writing.
The Prime Minister asked the student, “Will this program work for a 40-50 year old child too?” Many people broke into laughter and applause, and when the student replied “Yes sir, it will work”, he responded, “Then that will make the mothers of such children very happy”.
Reacting to the video, Siddaramaiah, former Karnataka chief minister and Congress leader said, “Shame on you Modi!! You just can’t go below this. Your insensitivity can’t be washed away by dipping in any river. They may be slow in learning but not heartless like you”.
Sitaram Yechury, of the Communist Party of India (M), called it, “shameful and distressing”, adding, “Some of us have dyslexic or disabled relatives, friends, children and parents. Sattar saal mein pehli baar (For the first time in 60 years), a person with this crassness occupies the chair of the PM.”
While the Opposition is looking to score political points, the outpouring from the disability rights community is massive and heartfelt. The Latika Roy Foundation tweeted, “An uphill task becomes even more challenging when our efforts to eliminate the ignorance, shame, fear and stigma surrounding #disabilty are undermined by the people we look to lead us”, while another commentator pointed out that dyslexia affects up to 18% of schoolchildren in India .
The National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD), a leading cross disability rights group, has called upon all state units to organize protests independently or unitedly with other disability rights organisations. State affiliates of the NPRD have also been directed to file complaints under this section.
The insult by PM Narendra Modi of persons with disabilities constitutes an offence under Section 92 (a) of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. The section reads: “Whosoever, – intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate a person with disability in any place within public view………. Shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to five years and with fine.- National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled
For too long now, terms related to disability or people with disabilities have been used casually by Indian politicians in ways that indicate weakness or contempt. The strong reactions show that this will no longer be tolerated.
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