No County for Special People
Last night when my elder brother Arshad was reversing his car to drop me to my place, he pointed out a group of young boys sitting under his apartment window. He said that when he was placing the new curtains, he saw these boys along with a couple of girls, (who live in the same building) point up at him. They were discussing if he was the "mad guy" or not. They were talking about June. It didn't bother them, that Chiggu bhai (Arshad) was looking at them or could hear them.
Neither my brother nor I were shocked by this incident. Every time, people behave like this, regarding June Bhai, it just leaves us stoic. The coldness with which people say such things, transcends to us as coldly as it were meant. Mostly. But sometimes we break.
Why are people so scared of what they don’t understand? My brother’s brain is severely damaged but to the “young educated adults in my housing society” he is a spectacle to talk about or to stare at through the window of his first floor apartment. Uneducated children from the nearing slums think it’s “funny” to pelt an occasional marble or a pebble at him if he’s sitting unattended at the window. Luckily, he's never got hurt. Luckily the vigilant watchmen have driven these children off the compound.
It’s June’s birthday next month. Mummy and I wanted to take him to a park. But our immediate concern was that it’s on a Sunday and the place will be crowded. People will stare at us and laugh at him. June has no understanding of why people laugh at him, but as his family, we feel exasperated and torn between, ‘should we tell them not to laugh and explain his condition, or should we ignore them or perhaps should we express our anger?’
This post is not just about my brother. It is about a general attitude the Indian society has, towards people with special needs. Forget being sensitive to people with special needs the only thing the public in India can do is to indeed make such people feel “out of place”.
At the recently concluded Mumbai Film Festival, delegates were cueing up to get into the theaters hours before the actual shows. The venue was crowded with the same competitive air you witness at any local train station in Mumbai. On one such day, an elderly man, with a limp was climbing a staircase ahead of me, feeling impatient at being slowed down because of his handicap, a young boy pushed both the elderly gentleman and me to move up. I felt bad and took a resolve to not let anyone do the same, by guarding his space. I could sense the frustration people felt behind me…but what the hell?
Some friends complain of crying infants in flights. Crying infants. Pray what are these young parents supposed to do, pack up their infants and check them in with their luggage? I have seen young couples feel so embarrassed when their babies cry at take off. Just the way I feel embarrassed when Juney as much as opens his mouth on the flight. The words of Rahul Gupta the Indigo employee, who once denied us our boarding passes, echoing in my mind, "Your brother seems aggressive and is a potential threat to the safety of passengers."
Why is that when most Indians see a person with mental or physical disabilities they get overwhelmed with sympathy or callousness? Some even feel compelled to offer weird logic like "pichle janam main kuchh burra kiya hoga!," Yes I have actually been told that too.
|Loves looking out of the window|
In my brother’s case, we are lucky to have an excellent group of friends and family. Our friends have their own equation with him. When little kids of our friends visit the house and are curious about June, I have heard some beautiful explanations from their parents. Ranging from “He’s a big baby!” to “He is a small baby who had a lot of bournvita so he looks big, but is actually small!” To the plain truth, that “he had got hurt as a child and is special.”
When you teach your child to be sensitive they are so quick to learn. Kids love June, but you just have to give them the special introduction he deserves! Likewise, adults in India need sensitizing programs to help make the society friendlier to people with special needs. We need to learn to be patient and allow everyone the equal space they demand in society. Old people, infants, children who are still learning the fine world of manners, people with special needs, whether mental or physical. Our judgements on individuals need introspection.
"The, Thank god, you didn't make me like this" approach needs to change! Please be thankful, but not derogatory to anyone.
It's high time!