Skip to content

"Why don't you get a job?" she asked.

"Well my child is severely disabled and needs care." I replied.

A simple reply changed the direction of the conversation. "You really shouldn't call him disabled. He is special needs." She informed me, as though it was possible for the mother of a five year old disabled child to never have heard the cosmetic term "special needs". I've heard them all, I think - special needs, differently abled, physically challenged, learning delayed, developmentally delayed.... there is an endless list as feel-gooders go on an orgy of finding names that won't hurt.

A post about "chinkies" - street term used for people with slanted eyes right from the Chinese and Japanese to Manipuris and Ladakhis - caused outrage. It may have spoken about hate attacks against them and apathy in the eyes of India, but hey, I should have used a better term.

The last straw (well one of them) was when the Delhi Gang Rape victim who died of her injuries was called a rape survivor - hello! She DIED!!! How does that make her a survivor? Well she reached hospital, so survived her rape, I guess. Perhaps we shouldn't prosecute the rapists for murder along with the rape.

I have a problem with sterile descriptors - particularly ones that are inaccurate. A rape victim is NOT a survivor. "Survivor" implies that every rape is as good as death - which is the plain fucking patriarchal view, only recycled by feminists (yeah, our feminists often end up convenient to women owners). The other problem with survivor being used as a default description is of course the sad reality that sometimes they don't survive. They die of injuries or commit suicide or get murdered for silencing or honor. The third problem of course is the sheer inaccuracy of it. Even if we were to understand "survival" as recovery from trauma (as opposed to risk of death), many victims remain traumatized and brutalized by their experiences and don't begin recovery as urgently as mass media would prefer.

Similarly, calling disabled people who travel in compartments for handicapped people "special needs" is a cosmetic makeover that makes no difference to the reality. The same people suffering the same disadvantages travel in the same compartment. And if you tell me there exists a single child in the world whose needs are not special, perhaps you need to respect children more.

There are several things these cosmetic makeovers achieve. The first and biggest is that they give us the power to play God. Here is a problem, you rename it and the problem is gone. Its new name is not a problem.

The other thing is our own lazy insensitivity. If there is no problem, we don't need to go out of our way to do anything for them, right? If she's a survivor, triumphant and all, it doesn't remind us that she may be fragile and need a lot more assistance than is apparent.

But, the hiding of devastating disadvantages can put help out of reach for those affected. Getting out of your seat for a cripple, handicapped, lame, blind person would be manners. For someone with special needs? Nah, sit.  Just attention seeking. They need more than normal. But you are tired too.

I'd rather my child be known as a disabled child than people to think that he just has some special requirements - which someone (the state? - standard fallback) must be providing. Nothing to worry ourselves about in special needs. Besides, what do we know about providing special care?

It is a dehumanized, impersonal way that serves those without disadvantages by removing the obligation to assist the needy that is hardwired into any responsible mind. It is an attempt to sweep ugliness out of sight, even if that whitewash means more difficulties in receiving aid, because the need is rendered invisible.

We pretend that being unable to sit, stand, talk, walk - difficult challenges to overcome - aren't the problem, but the problem is the label - which can be changed easily - that keeps the problems visible and hurting sensibilities.

Those who prefer such euphemisms claim that the dehumanized euphemisms empower the disadvantaged. "A rape victim keeps getting reminded of her trauma" are the actual words by an activist I raised this issue with. Well, a rape survivor also keeps getting reminded of her trauma. The issue isn't with the word victim, but the rape itself - which will take as much time and healing as it does before it stops hurting. If we see the hurt, we can offer solidarity, compassion, our hurt in empathy.

The problem is not with words. Words are mere descriptors. A cripple or a victim or something else. That is the reality of what they go through. The hurt is in the suffering. In discrimination, in lack of respect. Until we learn to love and respect people and be compassionate, we will keep changing labels as older ones become symbolic of our insensitivity and we need newer, kinder ones that further pretend nothing is wrong.

Maybe if we tell ourselves enough, we can just label away all the problems in the world.

Here's George Carlin on a similar subject.


Nadia Shaikh (name changed) was 14 years old, and she went missing from near her home on the 14th of May 2011. She had been taking a walk in a garden around 7:30pm when a man of around 23 to 25 years of age approached her and struck a conversation. Before she realized it, she was in an unfamiliar area, and the man gave her something to eat, which she ate and fell unconscious.

When she regained consciousness, she was in an unfamiliar shanty. This is now known as a shanty near Lotus lake in the Malwani area itself. Her kidnappers raped her for three days initially and then visited her every four or five days when he brought her food and also raped her. Once he forgot her for a week. She was starving, defecating in that room itself and her health deteriorated.

According to her parents there were five men involved in kidnapping and raping her and after the first few days they started fighting over who would bear the expense of feeding her. As a result, she got a vada paav every four to five days. Desperate for food, she ate the vada paav, the paper it was packed in, mud, pieces of her dress...

In the meanwhile, her parents had filed a complaint, but got no progress. They claim the police didn't make enough efforts to find her and instead accused them of not taking enough care of her. Right. Blame the victim.

Nadia's health deteriorated till she was unable to speak or move. The kidnapper decided at this point to abandon her - probably realized that she may die.

Local witnesses speak of a rickshaw slowing near the garden where she was kidnapped from, and throwing her out.

But remember the murders of Keenan and Reuben? Of course, no one got involved. The abused, raped, starving, ill teenage girl lay on the street like a pile of abandoned rubbish all night, till two local women on a morning walk discovered her. They splashed water on her face and got information about her uncle's home nearby and took her there.

And let us not pretend any park in Mumbai is so isolated that no one noticed her.

She was admitted at Bhagwati Hospital where the doctors said they were treating her for various malnutrition related disorders.

In the meanwhile, the parents say that the cops questioned a few people, but didn't do any serious investigating. The five men who kidnapped her are absconding, and the police are playing down the case.

Senior Police Inspector Abdul Rauf Shaikh from the Malwani police station offered a canned statement, "My officers have investigated the leads and recorded the statements of the suspected kidnappers mentioned by the girl's parents. If the girl's family feels that my officers did not conduct adequate investigation, I will look into the matter. Once she
recovers from the trauma, we will record her statement and carry out fresh investigations to nab the culprit."

She died.

Police now say they did all they could have. The accused says she accompanied him willingly. The accused is a minor and has been sent to the Dongri Children's Home.

The father says that she was sexually assaulted. Police say that the girl did not mention it to them. Sources from the forensic medicine department of Nair Hospital say that it is difficult to say if the sex was consensual or forced. Never mind something as silly as the country's laws that say that a person below 16 can't legally give consent for sex. So it is never consensual and hence rape! Also never mind that the girl's condition was not exactly prime.

Medical records say that she had mud and paper in her stomach as well as multiple perforations in her stomach, small and large intestine which her father says is because of it. Police say that she had absominal tuberculosis and lesions were because of that. I didn't know abdominal tuberculosis creates mud and paper in the stomach!

The doctors at Nair hospital said that the perforations could have been because of tuberculosis. In other words, a girl was being treated for a month at Bhagwati Hospital and died of tuberculosis without being treated for it? Sue the hospital too!

Police said that the boy who was seventeen and his sister had even taken her to a hospital. But apparently not bothered to inform her family! Nor taken her properly home at the end of five months.

The police insist she did not die of starvation, but abdominal tuberculosis. Unfortunately for them, here is a quote by a doctor given to MiDDAY:

"Medical investigations are in progress. She is stable, but is severely malnourished, and has lost significant muscle mass, as a result of extreme starvation. We are treating her for a number of starvation-related disorders," said Medical Superintendent C S Gawade from Bhagwati hospital.

No mention of tuberculosis. Surprise!

The police say Umesh Kuria will be charged with kidnapping because she was a minor. How typical of rapes - the man is innocent! This beyond pathetic of the cops. What is the use of eve teasing squads if they cannot recognize rape when they see it?

The other thing is that the boy who is 17 is underage. So he won't get severe consequences. What about his family? Are they not criminals to allow this to happen? And if they didn't know, and he did this whole thing totally without them knowing, then is he really a child?


"It's just another love story and not some crime saga," said Mahesh Patil, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Zone 11).

I suggest that his suspension be just another prevention of justice story and not something to be avoided.


It is difficult to understand truth from lies here, but a few facts are as indisputable as the fact that she died.

  • The accused is the person she was with for five months, and whether she went there willingly or not, she was subjected to rape, imprisonment and starvation. If her consent were valid, it still was domestic abuse that led to death.
  • The police did not find the girl till she was dumped. The attempts they claim are unclear.
  • There is still no mention of the police finding out what the locals around the shanty know.
  • She was dumped on the street in a condition that eventually killed her.
  • She lay on the street without assistance all night.
  • Cops are playing down the crime by mis-stating facts, repeatedly referring to the criminal's status as juvenile while making no efforts to arrest his guardians either who allowed this to happen.
  • Media is not asking anything that makes the cops uncomfortable.

The worst thing probably is that there is no one asking tough questions from the cops, while frustrated friends and family resort to rioting. Media is reporting what the cops say. Holes in the story, discrepancies and downright misinformation by the cops large enough to drive a truck through is not being questioned by the ones to question it.


Raped and starved, missing girl returns five months later

Malwani girl’s death: Medical report awaited

Riot in Malwani following funeral of 14-yr-old girl

Police trying to dilute case, say kin of dead Malwani girl