Sunday, 12 April 2015

Inanity and cluelessness on the meaning of sensitivity

Last night, I received a phone call from my cousin (who has been a frequent reader of my blog) and she told me there was something on TV about persons with disabilities, and that I might want to see it. When she told me it was on NDTV, I should have wondered if it would be worth dropping the proof-reading marathon I need to finish within the next week or so - but some people need to be told the same revolting thing ad nauseum before it gets past their thick cranium.

The `something on TV' had a bright title like `it's your choice' and was a grotesque parody, presented by Prannoy Roy, of a show called `Just for Laughs'. In the Hollywood slapstick version, a typical example would feature, for example, a traffic cop stopping somebody for a (falsely) alleged `parking violation' and falling asleep every few seconds during the process of giving the ticket for the violation; and after the motorist got increasingly visibly irritated, somebody would point out the camera getting all this down for a future episode for the show. That is harmless fun.

But what Prannoy Roy doled out made you want to rush out and throw up. The aim of the show was to apparently convince the viewer that the populace of our cities like Delhi and Kolkata are sensitive about the needs of the disabled, and speak up when they perceive insensitivity in this regard, and to exhort the viewer to similarly speak up when observing anything that is not quite right. There were a series of `episodes of the following genre:

A person with cerebral palsy and his fiancee are seated at a restaurant in Delhi, when a party of two young men and a woman come to occupy a nearby table. Soon we hear the woman from the trio say `This is disgusting; why do they allow such people to come out, and to places like this'. She and her companions keep making remarks at least as noxious - and do so loudly enough to have their views heard by anybody within twenty feet. The camera then  pans on the faces of some of the other clientele, who look inceasingly disgusted, until some of them walk up to inform the trio of some home truths such as `they are also people after all', and `imagine if you had a brother like that'. After such scintillating conversation drags on more than long enough - `show some sympathy' - `but it's so disgusting-ya' - back and forth between the good guys and the bad, and more people join the ranks of the good guys, out walks the cameramen and a disembodied voice in the background (guess whose) reveals the truth that the trio as well as some of the `good guys' who initially rose to the defense of the `almost people' were employees of NDTV, and asks the viewer to revel in the manner in which the other good people of Delhi spoke out their minds, thus displaying that Delhi stood up for its disabled people. (sic).

Revolting as this was to watch, the first episode I saw was what really got my goat. For this episode, NDTV had got Abha Khetarpal, a well-known spokesperson for the need for inclusivity, barrier-free environments, ...., to agree to act as the person manning the counter of a large supermarket-style store, where bills are rung up. In this episode, an abrasive man, whom everybody waould love to see fall down and break his teeth, walks up and demands that Abha finish her task quickly, `as his car is waiting'. After  he makes enough impatient and insensitive statements, two nearby customers (whose mounting displeasure the cameras have been hopping back and forth to show) come up to Abha's defense, to be soon joined by other good samaritans, before it is time for the cameramen to appear and the same old sermon dished out to the hapless viewer.

For crying out loud, you don't have to show a blind person being bashed about before realising that they are also people, and that we should strive for an inclusive society. What really annoyed me was the trivialising of Abha to nothing but a `poor wheelchair-user to be pitied', never mind the fact that here was an accomplished (see my post in this blog) woman who has more to her than being a subject to be tragically stereotyped. I would have been more appreciative of NDTV's (token) sensitivity towards people with disability, if there had been a series of episodes on the sort of handicaps overcome by determined achievers among people with disabilities (like Abha Khetarpal, Shivani Gupta, Hema Iyengar, Rajiv Rajan, ...) and give sermons asking people to (i) not park their cars and bikes on pavements, or (ii) not to arrange `functions' in buildings without ramps where you invite wheel-chair users to `receive an award' after somehow having had navigate flights of steps! Get real, Prannoy, if you really want to sensitise your viewing public (rather than gain cheap `brownie points' for NDTV), then talk to people like Vaishnavi Jayakumar (co-founder of the Banyan) who can instantly reel off half a dozen more meaningful scenarios to use your expensive cameras for.

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