21 Oct 2018 05:47am IST
By Monika Kshatriya
n 13th October, at a celebratory event in Porvorim, you managed to turn a victorious mood to one of anguish and bitterness. Ironically, it was the stars of the day that were at the receiving end of your misguided ‘sympathy’. With just one line you displayed not just an utter lack of understanding of diversity, but also managed to trample upon the very Constitution that you swore to uphold while taking an oath to office.
You were invited as the Chief Guest at the prize distribution ceremony of the Cricket for the Blind, T20 Tri Series between India, Sri Lanka and England. This sporting event was organised by the Goa Cricket Association and the Cricket Association for the Blind in India. The mood was jubilant because the hosts, Team India, managed to claim the cup. This was a moment to celebrate the special abilities of the players, their grit and determination for having fought against all kinds of physical and mental barriers to reach this far. People in the stands eagerly waited to hear your words of wisdom and appreciation. And it ended with you strengthening the very mindset we work so hard at changing.
The team of eleven, and their support staff, had been on the circuit for days and this was a culmination of a battle hard fought. Not just for the winning team but also those of the other two nations. These International players were witness to our Goan hospitality and sporting spirit. A wide audience had just been treated to their cricketing skills and crowds went up in rapture as the host team won. Now, they eagerly awaited your speech and what you thought of their game. Remember these cricketers are path breakers in more ways than one. They are an inspiration to many sports persons in this cricket-obsessed nation of ours.
Instead, you chose to heap a huge dollop of humiliation with a garnish of insult, served with deep insensitivity. You said “Blind people are a mistake committed by God and it is a miracle such people can play cricket”.
Madam Governor, today you hold the exalted office of the governor. You are sworn to uphold the law. We address you as "Her Excellency" because you are appointed by the President himself to the high office. You are respected because you have committed yourself to the Constitution.
Under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 the government is required to inter alia, “ensure/protect a disabled person’s right to equality, dignity and respect for his/her integrity equally with others; right to personal liberty, right not to be discriminated against; right to live in a community, and right to equal protection.” Clearly in complete disregard of this Act, you have attempted to strip persons with disabilities of the dignity they deserve.
Surely you could argue that this comment was not meant as an insult but more of an accolade of having crossed a natural barrier, a barrier of a certain physical limitation. But let me explain why your statement has hurt us so much, and why it has set back the disability movement in Goa.
The biggest problem that persons with disability face in our country (and many others too) is social stigma. When a child is born with a disability, at first the parents are shocked. Their first reaction is denial, that somehow the doctors are mistaken. But when it’s confirmed and they accept it, they see their child’s disability as their own failure, wondering what they did wrong. After some time they do manage to get over that feeling, but they face a society that sees their child as abnormal, as some kind of punishment from God or some error. And many a times it is this fear of social ridicule that they hide their child, denying them access to education, social interaction and in some cases, even fresh air and sunlight.
One of the key reasons that the number of persons with disability registered with the government is far lower than the actual count is precisely because of this reason. Imagine the plight of a child with disability. Since infancy they face a kind of rejection, a feeling of them being some kind of an “error”. A lot of us do manage to overcome that feeling and learn to love ourselves. Some such brave people go on to play cricket and/or shine in other fields. And then on the day of glory, they are labelled “God’s mistake”, clearly that is so demoralising.
Now about that word “miracle”. Indeed, it is a strange word. It often is used positively, however, its connotation is not usually so. In most cases it is used in context of a certain event or person that logically will not succeed, but when the person does, it is called a miracle. While it may seem like a compliment in its essence it is quite thoughtless because it fails to acknowledge hard work and perseverance.
The players did not make it to the international level because of a “miracle”. It takes years of hard work, perseverance, sweat and toil in perfecting their game. A person with visual impairment has to cross many a mountain to get to a sports field. After dedicated practice for years one reaches the international level and plays a game. And then to be told that it’s a miracle. As if, they aren’t capable of much, but by sheer miracle they are doing what they are.
Your words betray a feeling of patronising sympathy for persons with disability. That is something we outrightly reject. We do not need your pity. We are self-respecting people who want our due and a level playing field in the society. We need empathy, we need the Governor to recognise that a disability could happen to anyone at any point in life. But that doesn’t make us any lesser than we were before the disability. We like to define ourselves by our abilities.
When we are proud of someone – we call him or her God’s gift. So calling people God's mistake can in no way be called a compliment. I am sure you tell your children every so often how grateful you are to have them. “I am so grateful that god gifted me you.” Can you imagine – calling your child God’s mistake because he or she may be not be great at some skill? Worse, imagine how crestfallen that child would be knowing that her parents view her as flawed, as something that was an oversight or mistake.
Madam Governor, I’d like to share with you the examples of some persons with disabilities from around world. The world has progressed to the level where a blind man can be the Home Secretary - David Blunkett (2001 to 2004) in UK. Did you also know that there have been eleven Presidents of US who had some kind of disability, most prominent being FD Roosevelt who led the nation from 1933-45 during World War II? Can these people be described as God’s mistakes?
Cricket for the Blind is a specialised sport. It requires a certain skill to play it and clearly not everyone can. I assure you that even a blindfolded Sachin Tendulkar or Virat Kohli will find it difficult to qualify for a district team. Clearly, you failed to see the abilities of these sports persons. All you could focus on was their disability.
Madam Governor, you might recall that in January 2015, the then Chief Minister, Laxmikant Parsekar, had expressed the same idea. We had protested even then. In contrast to your views, our Prime Minister has termed disabled persons ‘Divyang’ (those with divine limbs?) Can we not be linked with God and just be spoken as persons? The divine exists in every person.
Please don’t put us down to a folly of the Almighty. The folly may rest in your inability to appreciate diversity and to recognize that each of us is a perfect creation.