Viklang versus Divyang: Modiji, stop invoking divinity, address plight of persons with disabilities

Written by: Maitreyee Boruah

Bengaluru, Jan 23: We all know how much Prime Minister Narendra Modi loves to coin new catchphrases and terminologies to push forward his various schemes.

Be it Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Digital India, Make in India or Start-up India, Stand-up India initiatives, various catchy slogans were invented in recent times by advertising agencies to popularise government schemes.

Disabled rights activists miffed with PM

One of Modi government's latest pet projects is the disability sector. However, it seems, the BJP-led NDA government committed a major faux pas in its very initial stages of working for the upliftment of persons with disabilities.

Disabled rights activists have taken offence to the use of the term of ‘divyang' (divine body) instead of the commonly used word ‘viklang' (persons with disabilities) by Modi.

The disabled rights activists under the umbrella of National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) and its various affiliates on January 22 (Friday) wrote a strongly worded letter to the Prime Minister opposing the use of the term ‘divyang'.

Divyang versus Viklang

The letter began by saying, "On December 27, 2015 during the course of your ‘Mann Ki Baat' you had referred to persons with disabilities thus: "Those in whom Paramatma has created a deficiency in the body, those for whom some part of the body does not work properly, we call them ‘viklang'...............‘Why don't we, in our country, replace the word ‘viklang' with the word ‘divyang'?' These are those people who possess divinity - divyata - in one or more parts of their body; whose bodies are possessed by divine power (divya shakti)....."

"We presumed it to be a one-off remark, emerging from some stray thoughts. But in the subsequent days we were bombarded with the use of the term ‘divyang', not by you alone but various others in the government, who have taken the cue," the letter added.

Disabled rights activists miffed with PM

Modi wants to change mindset

The activists wrote the letter after Modi stressed on the term ‘divyang' at a public meeting hosted for persons with disabilities in Varanasi on January 22. The event saw Modi distributing wheelchairs, electronic- hearing aids and skill certificates to the differently abled people.

"What I want to do is change the mindset about differently abled people. When I say let's use the word 'divyang', it is about that change," Modi said

In his December 27 'Mann ki Baat', PM Modi had based his concept of 'divyang' on the premise that the people with physical disabilities tend to develop special faculties that even the fully 'able' lack.
"We see a person's disability with our eyes. But our interaction tells us the person has an extra power. Then I thought, in our country, instead of using the word 'viklang,' we should use the term 'divyang'," PM Modi had said in his radio address of last month.

Read More: 'Viklaang' to 'Divyaang': PM Modi's Mahatma Gandhi moment in Varanasi

The Department of Disability Affairs has since given a serious thought to changing the official terminology.

Stop patronising, Mr PM

The letter clearly stated that a new terminology is not going to change the reality. The activists want the Prime Minister to address the issue of discrimination and stigma faced by the differently abled people.

"Today, at the mega event for distribution of aids and appliances at Varanasi the term was used repeatedly and lapped up by a section of the media also. Even while not questioning the motive behind the coining of this expression, it is needless to say that mere change of terminology is not going to bring about any change in the manner in which people with disabilities are treated.

Invoking divinity will in no way lessen the stigma and discrimination that persons with disabilities have been historically subjected to and continue to encounter in their daily lives. Exclusion and marginalisation cannot be addressed by using patronising terms like ‘divyang'. On the contrary, they will only invoke sympathy and underline that charity is what counts," the letter said.

Read More: PM Modi to visit Varanasi, Lucknow on Jan 22

It's hard work, not divinity

The activists said persons with disabilities have achieved success in their lives because of their hard work.

"The persons with disabilities, overcoming various odds and multiple hurdles have proven their mettle. It would be fallacious however to conclude that this is due to any divine attribute. Such invocations would only tend to create myths, even while squarely failing to address the issues that the disabled face," stated the letter.

We want dignity

The letter demanded that persons with disabilities should be treated with dignity.
"Dignity, accommodation and recognition of their rights as equal and productive citizens are what persons with disabilities long for and not any change in nomenclature," it said.

End stigma and discrimination

Since ages, differently abled people have faced stigma and discrimination.

"We would like to reiterate that disability is not a divine gift. And the use of phrase like ‘divyang' in no way ensures de-stigmatisation or an end to discrimination on grounds of disability. What needs to be addressed are stigma, discrimination and marginalisation that persons with disabilities are subjected to on account of the cultural, social, physical and attitudinal barriers that hinder their effective participation in the country's economic, social and political life," the letter said.
Voice against divyang grows

The activists want the government not to use the term ‘divyang' while addressing persons with disabilities.

"The National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) and its affiliates are not the only ones who are voicing their opposition to the use of this term. Various other organisations have openly come out against this and several write-ups have also appeared in various prominent dailies.

We would therefore request you to refrain from using the term ‘divyang' and also shelve any plan that the government may be making to officially use this term," the letter ended.

The intention of Modi government is good, but definitely misplaced. Maybe, it is like the same way the Dalits detest the term Harijan coined by Mahatma Gandhi. It further marginalised them. Here the idea should be integration, not building exclusive clubs, creating further division of society.

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