Geet Oberoi is not just a mother of a child with dyslexia, but she herself has a learning disability, and has been involved in special education for the last two decades.
‘Setback to campaign’
“When I heard the Prime Minister’s comments, I did not know which part of me was more mad - the mother, the teacher or the person with dyscalculia,” she said. “We have been making slow, steady progress in awareness and removing myths about dyslexia, and in one sweep, he pushes it all backwards.”
Dr. Oberoi, a clinical psychologist working with children with special needs, is one of the many people who slammed Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday for taunting dyslexic people while taking potshots at Rahul Gandhi during an interaction with college students over the weekend.
While interacting by video conference with students gathered at IIT-Kharagpur, Mr. Modi interrupted a student explaining how her project could help dyslexic kids and asked whether her project could also help 40-50-year-old “children” as well. “Yes, it can,” she said, even as her fellow students responded with laughter and applause.
Mr. Modi seemed to be referring to the Congress president and his mother, and Opposition leaders have condemned his comments as offensive and crass.
“There can’t be a more insensitive comment from the Prime Minister than this. To make fun of dyslexic people on such a platform is shameful. He should apologise,” said Congress leader R.P.N. Singh.
On social media, the condemnation went well beyond the political class with an even stronger reaction coming from people with dyslexia.
“A teacher once told my mother I won’t graduate middle school. Don’t forget the deep shame that a society imprints on a child who might perhaps not fare in exams well. It was my mother’s refusal to believe that her child was not stupid, but some one who needed help,” said Suchitra Vijayan, a lawyer and writer who heads The Polis Project, and was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 10. “To use a student’s project on how to engage and educate people about dyslexia and leverage it to take political potshots is beneath the office of the [Prime Minister],” she tweeted.
The National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) also issued a statement condemning the “disrespectful and insensitive remarks” which “tried to portray all dyslexic people in poor light” and demanded an apology from the Prime Minister, noting that his remarks constituted an offence under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act. NPRD general secretary Muralidharn called out other examples of “a totally regressive mindset,” including Mr. Modi’s use of terms like “blind,” “deaf” and “lame” to belittle political rivals during the 2014 Lok Sabha campaign as well as Mr. Gandhi’s calling the Prime Minister schizophrenic.
A number of Twitterati posted pictures of Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Leonardo da Vinci and other gifted and successful people who had dyslexia. “Dyslexia is one of the most common learning disorders that affects 3-7% people, [traits in up to 17-20%],” said neuroscientist Sumaiya Shaikh. “It is genetic, and affects reading, writing and hence learning skills, but is not a marker for intelligence. Poor judgment by the PM to mock a neurological condition.”
“People don’t understand that dyslexia has nothing to do with IQ,” said Dr. Oberoi, sharing how some of her daughter’s parents and peers had made hurtful comments downplaying her intelligence. “And when the head of the country implies that about dyslexics - yes, he didn’t actually say dyslexics are dumb, but it is implied in the stupid comments, the jeering attitude, the sniggers - then what do I say when the principal of a school laughs at me? ‘If the PM laughs, why shouldn’t I?’ is the message,” she said.