In mocking the dyslexic Modi just aped the insensitive Indian

As PM, Narendra Modi could have given a new dimension to the struggle of those suffering. he chose not to

By Kundan Pandey
Published: Monday 04 March 2019

At 26, a friend of mine writes on healthy food habits after doing her post-graduation in development studies. She makes more than Rs 5 lakh per annum — less than one per cent of Indians manage that — and looks set for a promising career.

But she had a troubled past: Through midddle school, she consistently scored zeroes in Science and Mathematics. She was dyslexic.

I got to know this because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the way he mocked the disorder and those affected by it. She revealed this when she found me discussing Modi’s comment.

Wonder what a ‘healthy’ Modi was doing when he was 26? Was he placed better than my friend is now? Or was he just mocking fellow Indians in trouble even then?

The mocking is normal in the Indian society, my friend says. Meanwhile, 15 per cent of people are estimated to suffer from this learning disorder.

A video of the PM mocking someone — purportedly his political rival — for dyslexia has gone viral. This was at an event on March 2, 2019, where the PM was answering students via video-conferencing during the finals of the Smart India Hackathon at IIT, Kharagpur.

A student from Dehradun was introducing her project, based on the idea of solving problems of dyslexic persons. She was saying how dyslexic children could be creative despite facing learning difficulties, when Modi intervened and asked whether it would also help children aged 40-50. He seemed to have been mocking Congress president Rahul Gandhi.

After a round of giggles and guffaws among the audience, the girl resumed but Modi was not at all interested in what she had to offer. Instead of this, he again intervened and told the girl that the mother of ‘40-50 year old boy’ would be quite happy.

How did my friend all this? Nothing new, she said. Everyone in her surrounding has been mocking people in trouble and adding to their challenges. The PM did just the same.

Instead of boosting the morale of dyslexic people to come forward and overcome the disorder by a simple intervention, Modi chose to demean them.

She recalls her tough past when everyone, including her teachers and parents, were clueless about the reason behind her poor academic performance. Their mocking pushed her to do better. But, it was not as easy.

“Now, I imagine, I needed a little extra time to work upon simple calculations; but nobody was able to think about it. Even at the seventh standard, I outperformed all others at a school quiz. Yet nobody could spare some extra time to solve my problem.”

Her struggle continued and during her graduation days one of her friends indicated she might be suffering from dyslexia.

Going by his huge fan following, Modi’s appeal or seriousness towards such challenge has the potential to change the life of millions suffering. But, he chose not to.

Paradoxically the same Modi in December 2015 suggested the term ‘Divyang’ instead of ‘Viklang’ for the differently abled.  ‘Divyang’ refers to a ‘divine body part’ while ‘Viklang’ refers to one that is ‘non-performing’. He was trying to change the way the society looks towards those with physical or mental difficulties. His government also brought the Mental Healthcare Act 2017, targeting the stigma around mental illness.

These interventions have failed to bring any change on the ground because the solutions are misplaced. 

Now the PM’s mockery of dyslexic people suggests the problem lies elsewhere.

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