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Meaning of Divyang or Divyangjan and the Problems with these Word

This image shows a few blind girls learning computer. Indian government wants to call these girls divyang.
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Lalit Kumar | May 9, 2017 (Last update: August 9, 2021)

Lalit Kumar is a Polio Survivor and the founder of WeCapable. He loves finding useful things on Internet and knows how to put them together to create a bigger solution. He is passionate about technology, languages and literature. Besides WeCapable, Lalit has also founded TechWelkin, Kavita Kosh and Gadya Kosh websites.

A new word has been added to the government lingo in India. The current Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi, uttered the word divyang and coined a new meaning for it. Divyang is a Hindi word which means the one with a divine body part. The Prime Minister said that persons with disabilities should no longer be referred to as disabled persons or viklang. The word viklang is Hindi for someone with non-functional body parts. They should now be referred to as divyang or divyangjan. This new connotation of the word is absolutely unacceptable.

Before going any further, let me be clear that I do not doubt the intention of the PM. It is not uncommon in India to go emotionally overboard without giving much thought to the matter. I believe that the P.M. just wanted to elevate the level of Indian disabled people by getting rid of a negative term (viklang) used for them. However, he did not realized that by using the term divyang — he raised the level a bit too much and made disabled people look like non-humans! Moreover, I am also not sure if the P.M. really wanted this word to be used officially. He just uttered this word during a speech — but the political managers, bureaucrats and the media immediately took it a command from the P.M. that must be obeyed. As a result, the word divyang instantly became the official Hindi word to refer to the people with disabilities.

What’s wrong with the words  Divyang or Divyangjan?

It is easy to see what’s wrong. As I mentioned earlier, divyang literally means someone with a divine body part. But what’s so divine about a disabled person? The word divyang has no logic whatsoever. It does not match with how modern society sees and deals with disability. My foreigner friends could actually make fun of this word: “Oh really Lalit! They think you’re divine because you’re a polio survivor?! Come on, buddy, gimme a break!”

This image shows a few blind girls learning computer. Indian government wants to call these girls divyang.

Unfortunately, in India, disabled people are often seen as a means to please the gods. General public believe that people are disabled because of the bad deeds they committed in their previous lives. Also, it is believed that the gods love those who help the weak because weaker people are considered to be closer-to-gods. This is the root cause why this new meaning of the word divyang came into existence and this is also why this new meaning is wrong.

Persons with disabilities are NOT divine entities. They are just as human as anybody. Giving support to views like the sins of previous lives and proximity to gods is a regressive approach. Government should, in fact, work to educate public that just about anybody can become disabled and disability does not take away humanity or the status of being human. Yes, it is easy to feel pleased about one’s own good self by thinking that the other person is suffering because she is a sinner of previous life. Yes, it is a sure-shot approach to feel good — but it is also a very stupid approach.

From what I understand, the Indian P.M. said that the disabled people are endowed with extra qualities and they can perform extraordinary deeds. He said that “Something or the other keeps crossing my mind. Randomly, I thought that people who have some weakness or god has not given all the body parts functional are called handicapped but God has gifted them with unseen additional powers. God has infused extra powers in them. These powers are not visible to us but when we see these special people at work we realize their abundant potential.” [Source]

I have bold-faced certain words in the above quote. All these words are objectionable because these words takes away the right of being ordinary from the disabled people. In another WeCapable article, Alokita has very well articulated as to why disabled people also need the right of being perfectly ordinary. So, I will not go in more details here.

Society should not see persons with disabilities as gods or demons. We just need to understand that disability is a condition that can affect anybody, anywhere, anytime. We need to work towards mitigating the effect of disability on a person’s life. No disabled person would want to have a status of a divine being — all they want is equal opportunities, accessible infrastructure and understanding from the society.

Instead of developing accessible infrastructure and educating the public, if a government will begin to ask people to see divinity in disabled people — then this approach will not bear any desirable fruit.

Words do Matter!

There has been all sorts of debates around the world about which words should be used to refer to certain people. Whether to call gay or homosexual; handicapped or disabled or person with disability; dumb or mute — there have been debates on these word related matters. Any public organization comprehensively debate before adopting a word to refer to certain people. Because it matters!

I wonder if such deliberations were held before blatantly adopting divyang for official use? Were there any linguists involved in those deliberations? Was there any representation from persons with disabilities? If yes, would the government care to disclose who all were consulted and what were their opinions? Was there absolutely nobody who opposed the use of this word divyang?

Words cast a great impact on public psyche. The practice of using senseless words like divyang actually harms the progress towards an inclusive society.

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8 responses to “Meaning of Divyang or Divyangjan and the Problems with these Word”

  1. Avatar teha kohli says:

    If Divyangjan is not the proper word, what latest word is adopted for Disabled ?

    • Lalit Kumar Lalit Kumar says:

      Well, there is no universally accepted word or phrase to address persons with disabilities. Some people even find Divyangjan very appropriate. However, I do not support this word. I would rather call myself Viklang in Hindi because this better describe my real medical condition. As for Divyangjan, I have elaborated my objections in the article.

      • Avatar Rupa says:

        “Differently-abled” is a more appropriate and less stigmatizing term for referring to those with disability. Unfortunately, in India, our laws and acts have not been sensitive to the changes in nomenclature happening worldwide. The subject matter experts should have been consulted to avoid such issues.

      • Avatar Haraprasad Ghosh says:

        What’s the problem with the word DIVYANG!!! I don’t think that there should be so much talks for or against this word. The whole world itself with its living creatures and non living things is a reflection of the Divine. So, the whole world itself can be concludingly termed as Divyang. So, I don’t think any problem is there to refer to a particular group of people with this word . It suggests some superb generous and careful mind.

  2. Avatar D.P.Sharma says:

    I am agreed to the word expressed by Shri Lalit Kumar ji as viklang in Hindi language,

  3. Avatar G Prabhakara Rao says:

    words does not matter, what matters is how people treat people irrespective of their colour, creed, region (north, south), caste etc.

  4. Avatar Siddharth says:

    I think you are being a bit too harsh. Even in English, the term ‘specially abled’ is used for people with disabilities. While I agree that there could’ve been a better word than Divyang, I still don’t see this as that big of an issue.

  5. Avatar S.Kannan says:

    Good Write up.

    Did you write to any governmental authority on the use of the word ‘Divyang’ in official communications and what was the response, if any ?

    Iam interested to proceed further in the cause.

    Regards,
    S.Kannan

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