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Warn politicians who use abusive language, disability rights activists tell Election Commission

The focus on Story of the Week is on the mobilization among disability rights groups across India over the comments on dyslexia made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Outraged by such remarks made by leaders across the political spectrum, activists are looking at ways to ensure that such comments do not go unpunished.

In a strongly worded letter to the Election Commission of India (ECI), disability rights crusader Dr Satendra Singh has drawn attention to the repeated use of abusive language towards people with disabilities in the run up to the national election.

Referring to the most recent case where Prime Minister Narendra Mod mocked people with dyslexia while taking pot shots at Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi, Dr Singh called out the incidents over the last few months.

  • 8 February 2019: Rahul Gandhi attacks the PM for his ulta chor chowkidaar ko daante remark, asking if is suffering from "schizophrenia".
  • 26 January 2019: Claiming that Priyanka Gandhi is bipolar, Subramanian Swamy re-stigmatises mental illness.
  • September 2018: Union Minister Ashwini Kumar Choubey calls Congress president mentally unfit and says he should be admitted to a mental hospital for treatment.

Dr Singh's letter also pointedly rebuked the ECI for failing to act on past complaints over such behaviour, citing specific instances where the ECI failed to act.

The use of such language during election campaigns to deride political opponents is unpardonable. The non-action of ECI in such incidents can be considered as an apathy. Such apathy can be interpreted as acceptance - by the perpetrators, the public, and worse - the marginalized voters with disabilities. If left unchallenged, slurs persists and grow, as we saw the disturbing trend being continued till now despite Section 92(a) of the RPWC Act 2016 having provision of imprisonment on disability abuse. - Dr Satendra Singh, Disability rights leader

Pattern of behaviour

Speaking to NewzHook, Dr Singh said that in 2014 he complained to the ECI after then prime ministerial candidate Modi made a remark about "a deaf and dumb, handicapped government". This was not taken cognizance of. Dr Singh made it clear that his letter today was not targeted at any specific leader or party.

"Our society is so polarized today that people see this as targeting the PM when we are calling out all leaders. It is the moral responsibility of the ECI to take suo moto cognizance of such comments and act swiftly. This will make voters with disabilities feel supported and empowered. I request the ECI to issue a stern warning to all political parties to use respectful language for people with disabilities and to highlight provisions of the Act in the event of a contravention", said Dr Singh.

In Chennai too, disability rights groups say previous attempts to get the ECI to act had not yielded anything.

"The way forward is to not vote such politicians and to propagate and expose their demeaning political behaviour to the country through demonstrations and other campaigns over media, social media, websites, score cards for politicians etc"., said Smitha Sadashivan, Member, Disability Rights Alliance of India.

Last week, just days before the PM's comments, there was a large protest in Chennai demanding ECI action against politicians use abusive language against people with disabilities.

"This was the first time such a large protest was held anywhere in India", said TMN Deepak, Founder-President, 3 December Movement. "The system is not working for people with disabilities and most of the organizations that exist for us are paper tigers. The politics of protest is the only way to bring about a change. The judiciary has to become more proactive and so does the ECI".

Many believe that it is high time that the community made its voice heard in stronger ways.

"This happens all the time and there is no point shouting about it", said K Raghu Raman, Member, DRAI. "We are working on ways to act against such behaviour and this has to be taken up in a serious way".

In the meantime, a Twitter handle Election Seeing Eye Dog has been launched where people with disabilities can rate their local politicians on ableist language in the run up to the elections. Do check this out - http://twitter.com/electioneyedog. For those who are not on Twitter, there is this form - http://bit.ly/e-sed.

It is time to make our voices heard.

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

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