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Think Twice Before You Call A Person With Disabilities As ‘Divyang’


Divyang’, ‘differently-abled’ or ‘specially-abled’ are the terms we often use for persons with disabilities (PwD). But do we consider them and their reactions before addressing them with these words? Though we may intend good, we may end up hurting their feelings.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, last year coined the term ‘divyang’ and suggested to use it instead of ‘viklang’ for the handicapped. While it was received warmly by many in the country but the community to whom it was addressed isn’t quite happy with it.

So before giving a title or making any judgements about them, let us know from the community itself about how they find it.

India is a home to 21 million PwDs equalling to 2.1% of our total population. An important part of the country’s fabric, PwDs often tend to be ignored by the government and mainstream population. They feel they lack say even while deciding a title for them. Let us know from them.

“Sometime back, if someone saw a disabled person in the morning, they would curse him/her for spoiling their day. Now with the term ‘divyang’, disabled have suddenly turned to be divine. I reject being called with disgrace or divine. We want to be called and treated as what we are. None- disrespect or superficial respect will make us feel good,” said Sminu Jindal, Managing Director, Jindal Saw and founder of Svayam Foundation.

Jindal was 11 years old when she met with an accident and was left paralysed waist down. She started Svayam Foundation in 2000 to advocate accessibility and dignity rights of people with reduced mobility.

She believes PwDs should be treated as someone with any other disease with sympathising.  Although she is happy that government has raised an important issue through the Accessible India Campaign (AIC), she feels India is far lagging when it comes to infrastructure and outlook towards PwDs. “It is the first time that any government has seriously thought about us. It is indeed good to have AIC considering our challenges but a lot more is needed,” she added.

After Modi suggested using the term divyang last year, some organisations wrote to him asking to refrain from using the term for them. “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 said.

Nipun Malhotra from Nipman Foundation questions the consent of the community before addressing with the title. “It is strange that our consent is not considered before entitling us with a name. Our say is not heard even for making a law for our welfare. Introducing new terminology wouldn’t make the real change,” said Malhotra who is also the Executive Director of Nipman Fastener Industries. Born with arthrogryposis (a congenital disorder due to which his muscles haven’t developed in arms and legs), he now leads Nipman Foundation to make India more sensitive and accessible for the disabled.

“Usage of such words shifts focus from doing things to mere vocabulary. Although a nice initiative, Accessible India Campaign has failed miserably. People have taken the language very passionately but the actions are still pending. I think PM should review the campaign instead of focusing on words,” added Malhotra. Equality with required sensitivity and understanding is what they demand and not sympathy or any fancy terminology is what they ask for.

Children with disabilities too at a very young age start demanding for equal treatment. “When they see their siblings are going to different schools from theirs, they too want to go there. They strongly demand equal and normal treatment,” said Deepali Kapoor, Program Head, Unit for Children with Special Needs, Pratham.

However, many people taking up the fight for special and sensitive treatment towards PwDs feel that good terminology helps. “We have been working with children with Cerebral Palsy and I have always found them to be blessed. They always smile and inspire us. They certainly are divine souls,” said Ritu Chhabria, Managing Trustee, Mukul Madhav Foundation.

Adding further she said, “Because we are fighting for their different needs and rights we need to use different connotations. There is nothing wrong in using the word ‘disabled’ but ‘divyang’ or ‘differently-abled’ can make someone feel special. It is a way of giving them respect.”

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The CSR Journal Team