Wheelchair users mocked & insulted, Malayalam TV channel show draws criticism from activists
Flowers TV, a prominent Malayalam channel, had recently shown wheelchair users in a poor light in th 138th episode of their show titled ‘Star Magic’. Wheelchair user Athira Bhaskar and Fathima Asla sent a letter to channel Managing Director Sreekandan Nair regarding this. Within a day, the episode was taken down from YouTube.
Mocking marginalized communities have become the new normal for many television shows aired across the world. The situation is not any different in India. The mockery is often based on caste, creed, color, gender and even disabilities.
Recently, prominent Malayalam channel Flowers TV received backlash and criticism for portraying wheelchairs as ‘prop’ in one of their games section in the show ‘Star Magic’ which is apparently a comedy show. This insensitive segment in the TV channel show has not only hurt sentiments of wheelchair users, but has also shocked them. After a letter regarding this matter was sent to channel Managing Director Sreekandan Nair, the episode has been taken down from YouTube. But such incidents highlights the shallow attitudes of society not just towards people with disabilities, but their mobility aids as well.
The need for better awareness about disabilities in media
Over the years, people with disabilities have often been shown in media as weak and those who need help and support. Clearly, it shows lack of awareness about disabilities in not just people working behind such shows, but also of society in large.
In ‘Star Magic show’ that drew controversy, those without disabilities can be seen trying to chase something while sitting on a wheelchair. The task is shown to be something difficult or rather impossible because the contestants are sitting on wheelchairs! Meanwhile, others in the show and audience cheer for them, the participants move around in their ‘prop’ wheelchairs.
Disability rights activists and wheelchair users across Kerala have expressed their shock and shared their views on social media too.
Sharada Devi, a wheelchair user and Ph.D Scholar is someone who has been vocal about rights of people with disabilities. “Apparently in the show, they not only mock people with disabilities but also others based on caste and creed. So two marginalized communities are mocked in one show and that is heights of insensitivity. There are many such so-called comedy shows that portrays sensitiv things in a negative light and it is not acceptable. In fact, such mockery has become normal that most of us have gotten used to it. A wheelchair is an inevitable part in the lives of many people”, she says.
Sharada further adds, “In the task, a few participants can be seen moving around desperately trying to get something while they are seated on a wheelchair. They are trying to show that it is impossible to do things with a wheelchair. This is the message that the crew of the show has conveyed and I know many wheelchair users who were shocked at this. Why did they have to choose a wheelchair?”.
Excerpts from the letter sent to ‘Flowers TV’
Kerala-based wheelchair user Athira Bhaskar and Fathima Asla, who was diagnosed with Brittle Bone disease recently sent a letter to Sreekandan Nair, Managing Director, Flowers TV.
‘Sir, In the 138th episode of ‘Star Magic’ on Flowers TV, a task using wheelchairs were aired. The task shows people with disabilities as weak and helpless. For a person with disability, a wheelchair is not a prop or toy, but a mobility device that helps them to move forward. When you show a wheelchair in this light, as something used by abled-bodied people for fun, it hurts our sentiments. At the same time, if the task involved wheelchair users from real life, it would have motivated many. Viewers would also have understood what inclusion in its true sense meant. This is not the first time that people with disabilities are shown in such a manner by media. In the year 2015, American model Kylie Jenner did a photo-shoot on a wheelchair. This had called for widespread criticism from disability rights activists across the world. When the protests intensified, Jenner and the magazine came forward and apologized. Dear Sir, it is our request to please remove the 138th of your show that hurts our self-esteem and shows us in a degraded manner’.
Athira and Fathima got a quick response. The show was taken down from YouTube the next day. The duo hopes that this will be a message for other media houses to follow.
The need for raising voice against discrimination
Athira and Fathima has shown us the right path by battling against discrimination and making their voices heard.
Athira says, “We are not against the channel or the show, we are merely against the content that was aired. In fact, the makers have even put an insensitive background music to it. All this mocks wheelchair users”.
“The makers have even given a name for the task that mocks wheelchairs. They have called it drive carts that needs to be pushed. Makers of the show are using their privilege against us. It is not easy to be a wheelchair user and they must understand that. I’am not fully satisfied that they have removed the show because other channels must also get the message, only then will our efforts really make sense”, says Fathima.
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