Viklang vs Divyang: Will PM Modi's suggestion to change labels for disabled people help?

"The word refers to our impairment and what has divinity got to do with it?," asks Meenakshi, a person with disability.
Viklang vs Divyang: Will PM Modi's suggestion to change labels for disabled people help?
Viklang vs Divyang: Will PM Modi's suggestion to change labels for disabled people help?
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Several disabled people's organisations have strongly objected to the use of the term "divyang" to address the community of people with disabilities and urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to not use it to replace "viklang".

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had during his radio address "Mann Ki Baat" on December 27 last year said that physically- challenged people have a "divine ability" and the term "divyang" should be used in place of "viklang" for them. He reiterated his thoughts once again on Friday while addressing a rally in Varanasi stating that he wanted people to change their mindset towards the differently-abled and that is why he wants the word "divyang" to be used by the commoners.

However, the organisations that have objected to the use of the term "divyang" have written a letter to the PM stating, "Even while not questioning the motive behind 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 not lessen the stigma and discrimination that persons with disabilities have been historically subjected to and continue to encounter in their daily lives," the organisations said in their letter to the PM.

Speaking to The News Minute, Meenakshi Balasubramanian of "Equals - Centre for Promotion of Social Justice", a Chennai-based organization working for the rights of disabled people among other issues, echoed a similar view. Meenakshi, who is also a physically disabled person, says that the government cannot thrust any label they wish to on any community. 

"It is not that we do not want to identify as people with disabilities," says Meenakshi. But she feels the term "divyang" is one which is both unnecessarily "glorifying" and has "negative" connotations. "The word refers to our impairment and what has divinity got to do with it," she asks. 

In their letter to the PM, the organisations also made a similar point. They wrote, "We would like to reiterate that disability is not a divine gift. And the use of phrases like 'divyang' in no way ensures de-stigmatisation or an end to discrimination on grounds of disability."

They further said that the government should address the issues of 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.

Meenakshi is of the opinion that to understand what persons with disabilities face, one must understand what disability means. 

She says, "A person suffering from any form of impairment, be it physical, mental, intellectual or psychological, may or may not identify as a person with disability. Impairment is human diversity. If a person with impairment faces restriction when it comes to experiencing equal participation in the spheres of life due to certain barriers, it is that then he or she may be disabled."

Stating her own example, she says that as a person who is affected with mobility impairment, if all public spaces were equally accessible to her, she would not identify herself as disabled, though the impairment would still be a part of her. 

"It is the barriers that people with impairment face," she explains, "that has a major say in determining whether the person is disabled or not."

"The government does not see impairment as human diversity. It looks at disability as an individual issue, as a curse and that is very regressive. The government does not acknowledge that people with disability face restriction of participation in their daily lives," she further adds. 

Meanwhile, the organisations have urged the PM "to refrain from using the term 'divyang' and also shelve any plan that the government may be making to officially use this term."

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