Sensitivity does not come automatically with stardom. Of this, Malayalam writer Subhash Chandran is an example. The writer, who rose to fame with his novel Manushyanu Oru Aamugham, has made extremely inconsiderate remarks about autistic children and those born with Down syndrome in a recent interview.
Discussing his latest novel Samudrasila on Asianet News, Subhash, who is also the editor-in-chief of Mathrubhumi weekly, suggested that his protagonist Amba has an autistic son because she’s in a bad marriage. In the novel, Amba has sex with her lover before she gets married. However, the son born to her is fathered by her husband, with whom she has an unhappy relationship. There’s also ambiguity about whether Amba actually had premarital sex with her lover or if it was part of a dream. It was in addressing this that Subhash made the condemnable comments.
“The main doubt of all those who read Samudrasila – which they asked me over phone, letters and directly – was, is Amba spending a full moon night with her boyfriend at Velliyankal real or a dream? Amba had sex with the man she loves at Velliyankal with all freedom. If that was the reality, I wouldn’t want to make the child born out of that union an autistic child or one who has Down syndrome. If I had done so, all that I intended to say (presumably about love and sex) would be washed away. If a woman has sex with complete happiness and sense of freedom with the man she loves, only a smart child should be born,” the writer said.
Subash Chandran is one of the most celebrated writers in contemporary Malayalam literary scene. While the writer may have intended to bat for a woman’s right to choose her partner and advocate sexual freedom, he has ended up hurting those who already face social ostracism for no fault of theirs.
By stating that Amba’s son is autistic because she had sex with a man she does not love, Subash plays up to dangerous stereotypes that have real life repercussions for such persons. Disability has for long been characterised as a curse and as the result of one’s sins from a previous birth. While such unfair and incorrect perceptions may exist among the public, it is shocking that a man who is considered to be an intellectual should hold similar views. Many writers and others have condemned the remark, while a few have questioned the channel's decision to telecast this comment without questioning it.
Secretary of Kerala Autism Club, Sivadas said that Subhash should accept his mistake and apologise.
Social Security Mission Executive Director Dr Mohammed Asheel told Malayalam website FactInQuest that the statement was humiliating for parents of children with autism.