I’m quite sure that over the years we have all said things that we have later come to regret. It does seem that sometimes words come out of our mouths before our brains have processed the stupidity of what we are saying. This most certainly appears to have been the case with Goa’s Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar at the ‘We Care Film Festival’ on disability issues held in Panaji, Goa this week.
It could be argued that politicians who are in positions of public responsibility, and are therefore called upon to make speeches with some frequency, should be well versed in the art of diplomatic expression, but it is evident that on this occasion Mr Parsekar got things horribly wrong. He is certainly now paying the price, having been negatively featured in articles in the Times of India (January 21st) the Herald in Goa (22nd January) and the Hindustan Times (same date) to name but a few newspapers.
The offending words of this hapless gentleman, spoken at a festival in which the lives and accomplishments of people with disabilities were being celebrated were as follows:-
“There are some brothers and sisters in the society, who are born with certain disabilities. God forgets to give them certain things. That is negligence on the part of God and for that the child has to suffer for his entire life.”
It has long been understood that if you wish to avoid controversy in speech making, amongst the subjects you avoid are personal identities and religion. When I say long understood, I think this applies to the majority of us who are from time to time asked to speak in public, though the adage unfortunately appears to have eluded Mr Parsekar. Hopefully he is now much wiser after the event, but sadly the damage has been done.
Understandably, the film festival organisers, the well-respected Disability Rights Association of Goa (DRAG) were swift to condemn the Chief Minister’s comments, and I am sure that they now regret having tendered to him an invitation to this event. I am quite certain that he will not be high on their invitation list in the future.
The Chief Minister’s words were not only crass, but also showed a complete lack of understanding of the lives of disabled people and their families. Whether you are of any organised faith or none, the pre-scientific nonsense of his statement is similar to those latter day assumptions that disabled people were cursed, inflicted with a sign of punishment or possessed of demons that were common in the dark ages, and should have been confined to the history books many years ago. Mr Parsekar has clearly failed to recognise that disability is just one factor that contributes to human diversity, and as such should be respected in the same way that we should appreciate people from other historically marginalised groups. Having read reports of his speech, I am sure that Mr Parsekar will now be stating that he was misinterpreted in what he said, but he certainly miscalculated badly, and has understandably caused a level of offence that I suspect will have seriously damaged his political career.
There is another aspect of this situation caused by Mr Parsekar’s ignorance and misinterpretation that I personally find similarly disturbing. Just as the Chief Minister’s behaviour should be viewed as unacceptable, I also found some of the responses to his words equally obnoxious. On the Times of India website, an opportunity provided for readers to comment on his speech has certainly attracted a great deal of vitriol. Like many of these commentators, I would wish to wholly condemn the statement made by Mr Parsekar, unlike some of them, I see no value in doing this in equally offensive language. I’m sure that many of the comments made in the heat of the moment were as poorly considered as the Chief Minister’s own words. Ironically, many of those who condemn him as being discriminatory towards people with disabilities choose to describe him in terms which if used in relation to those they believe they are defending, would cause both hurt and offence.
Not all of the comments posted fall into this category, some, particularly those from individuals with personal stories of the impact of disabilities to report, provide insights into a much more real world, and in so doing make appropriate observations. These include responses from people with disabilities, an example of which is a posting that explains clearly the discrimination experienced by many individuals and concludes by saying:
“I am happy to find many right thinking people coming out strongly against this obnoxious remark. My request to all my countrymen to treat us as equals, we are human beings and have right to be treated so”.
The person making this comment, whilst clearly deeply hurt by the Chief Minister’s comments, managed to frame his response by putting forward a series of reasoned remarks without recourse to abusive language.
Reasoned debate around the lives of people with disabilities is important, but only if it directly involves these individuals in the discourse. Proponents in the debate need to moderate their language and ensure that they argue from a well-informed standpoint. It is certainly evident that in this sad affair, neither Mr Parsekar, nor some of those who have commented on his unacceptable words have chosen to take a path of moderation or sufficiently informed themselves to make a valid contribution.