You might know of dyslexia as the issue that Darsheel Safari's character in Taare Zameen Par faces. Letters of the alphabet dance in front of him and he despises school. But at the same time, he is an extremely talented artist. This was probably the first time that most Indians got a glimpse of what dyslexia was. If you aren't aware of it, here's a simple definition for you — Dyslexia is a common learning difficulty that can cause problems with reading, writing and spelling. So does that make dyslexic people inferior to others? Definitely not. But looks like the Prime Minister Narendra Modi got the whole definition wrong when he addressed a group of young people at the Smart India Hackathon 2019.
Here's how it all began. The Prime Minister, who was at the Smart India Hackathon 2019, was addressing a group of youngsters in IIT Kharagpur via video conferencing. An enthusiastic young woman, a student of the university University of Petroleum and Energy Studies briefed him about a program that could help dyslexic children who face reading and writing difficulties. Instead of lauding her for the effort or exploring the possibility of it helping the students, the Prime Minister decided to use this as an opportunity to take a dig at the INC President Rahul Gandhi. "Will this program work for a 40-50-year-old child too?" asked Modi. When the student said yes, Modi responded saying, "If it really will, then it will make the mothers of such children very happy." While the students laughed hysterically at the expense of dyslexic children and adults, many were quick to notice the insensitivity.
Roopa Rao is a retired professor, who was responsible for bringing a lot of changes in favour of dyslexic children in Karnataka. Mother to a dyslexic adult, she was utterly shocked to see the Prime Minister's reaction. She said, "What is wrong with the PM, I wonder!" she exclaims. "Still, there is no much awareness about dyslexia. The schools do not want to acknowledge these children. Parents still feel uncomfortable when dyslexic children sit next to their children. Our society, including our Prime Minister, holds a lot of negativity towards these children," she adds.
Pratibha, a mother of a dyslexic child from Bhopal was infuriated by the remark. She is someone who is trained in special education and keeps on researching on the topic for the well being of her child, "Dyslexic children are great problem solvers and perceive things differently. That is the only difference. But society always treats them differently," she says. "As a parent of a dyslexic child, I've always had issues. Now, the person on the top of hierarchy decides to say something so crass. He should apologise for that. In fact, he should be tried for ridiculing people with disability," she says.
We also spoke to Shree Kanth, a dyslexic academic. He was appalled by the students who decided to clap at the remark. "The Prime Minister doesn't know about dyslexia, neither our society. I am neither a Modi supporter, nor am I against him, but, I'm against the unawareness about dyslexia," he says.
(This story originally appeared on edexlive.com)