CHENNAI: In his budget speech, Minister Arun Jaitley referred to the people with disabilities twice. Once he termed them as Divyang which in Hindi means ‘divine bodied’, and at another place as differently-abled. But both terms have been rejected by the community. They say the terms only diverts attention from the real issue – that they live with disabilities and need help.
“This rejection of the term ‘differently abled’ is very much like the rejection of the term Harijan by
Dalits,” said Meenakshi Balasubramaniam from city-based NGO, ‘EQUALS’.
Inconsistent usage of the terms by Jaitley to refer to the community has not gone unnoticed and the activists opine this only reflects the refusal to acknowledge the responsibilities the government owe the community and it only aims to euphemise disability.
The term Divyang was first coined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015. However, Modi’s replacement for the word ‘Viklang’ (deformed bodies), which he spoke about in detail in a Mann Ki Baat address, was not received well and it is evident from its limited popularity. In recent years, it is more widely accepted.
“PwDs are not differently-abled. They have problems which have to be addressed. The first step is acknowledging that they have disabilities. So ‘People with Disabilities’ is the best and most direct way to a
ddress them,” said Meenakshi Balasubramaniam.
Jaitley, in his introduction to budgetary plans for Health, Education and Social Protection, referred to PwDs as Divyangs while he referred to PwDs as “differently abled” later on when he said he enhanced transport allowances for PwDs.
“The usage of the word ‘Divyang’ does not do justice to highlighting of the condition of PwDs and it is a tactic by the government to divert attention from other issues,” said Arun Bhaskar, a Youth Congress leader from the city who recently lost his leg in an accident.
“There is nothing divine about the ‘disabled’ experience and it is wrong to associate disability with the ‘divine’,” said Vaishnavi Jayakumar from the city-based NGO Banyan, who has been vehemently against the usage of the term to describe PwDs ever since Modi introduced it at the launch of Accessible India in 2015.
Meenakshi Balasubramanian also highlighted how calling PwDs ‘Divyangs’ could prove detrimental to their inclusion in society.
“The UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities points out how PwDs are people who have barriers restricting them from participating in society. Saying generically that they have ‘divine bodies’ does not acknowledge these barriers and restrictions,” she said.