First they pity you, then they make you feel ashamed, then they fight you, then you win
If Mahatma Gandhi had lived in present-day Georgia and could have seen how disabled people are treated here, he would have surely added a couple of words to his famous saying: ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win’.
Gandhi would have seen that the abusers had long since changed their strategy and are now acting in a more cunning and sophisticated manner. They have become ‘politically correct’ and have given up on ridiculing and ignoring people. What they do now instead is ‘pitying’ and ‘shaming.’ They are acting as if they are more concerned than you are.
For instance, if you are a woman and you are oppressed by a man, he is oppressing you and telling you that he is doing that for your own good.
The story will develop under the aforesaid scenario if you are the mother of an autistic child, who decides to get on the bus. First you will hear: ‘Oh, you poor, unlucky creature!’ Then, if the child is up to mischief or does something wrong, there will be one or two ‘men of heart’, who will tell you that such a child shouldn’t be brought on board of public transport, because he suffers and feels anxious himself (making one ashamed). Then you will be requested, in your best interests (!), to get off the transport.
This story is neither invented nor read out from any textbook.
That’s what Eka Maisuradze, the mother of an autistic child, was told in public transport, in Tbilisi, in 2014. Her little daughter, Salome, was kicking a plate mounted in front of her bus seat and the driver demanded that she should stop her child.
The driver couldn’t understand the essence of Eka’s words, as she tried to explain that a child with autism wouldn’t obey an order to stop the stereotypical movements and any physical pressure against the child would be unacceptable violence.
Mari Korkotadze was told the same thing in 2013.
However, Mari and Eka turned out to be ‘tough nuts to crack.’ ‘If you don’t like it, you’d better get off the bus yourselves,’ they responded. After such a response the ‘pity’ vanished somewhere and gave way to open and direct aggression. In Eka’s words, the bus driver started yelling at her, demanding that she take her child and get off the bus.
In both cases the parents made public statements, but there hasn’t been any reaction and no one has been held accountable.
It all happened again in 2016: Eka and her child were urged to get off public transport, but this time it was amidst more aggressive exclamations.
What should a parent do if he/she finds himself/herself in such a situation?
It’s not just Mari and Eka’s problem. Thousands of parents of children with disabilities encounter various forms of violence and discrimination in their daily lives. Simply, unlike others, Eka and Mari spoke up about it.
The parents should know that this is quite a wide-spread form of violence, commonly referred to as violence in the name of ‘empathy’.
Now the time has come for parents to contribute to community development and raising tolerance in it.
First of all, they should calmly explain to abusers that they are dealing with a child’s special needs and that they should show more patience towards the child’s behavior; that their demand is at variance with the law, since everyone is equal in this democratic and legal country.
If it doesn’t work, then they should calmly dial 112, the Ombudsman’s hotline and human rights NGOs’ numbers.
Protection of the rights of children with disabilities is a serious matter and it requires the same approach as we have towards the things we do at work: we plan, implement, check the results and widely spread them. The important thing in this process is that the parent should never be taken in by the environment and spirit of pity and compassion.
At first glance, pity implies empathy and compassion and we are all open to it. However, upon a closer look we will realize that pity weakens a human being. Those, who feel pity for us, think that we are the victims of the situation or are into some trouble.
And that’s the most erroneous attitude, from which all problems stem. Having a disability is not a tragedy, it’s a given. It should be taken as a given the same way that one takes the fact that I am, let’s say, a woman. Should anyone pity me because I was born a woman? Why should I need that pity if I don’t regard it as a problem. The problem starts when you are oppressing me because I was born a woman.
Thus, if we are forced to get off the transport out of ‘compassion’, that’s already a double violence. People oppress you and they are allegedly doing it for your own sake. What hypocrisy!
As for putting the parents to shame for urging their children to travel by public transport – I wonder, what the alternative would be? Should a child be locked up in the house and travel by private car or taxi? Could there be anything more cynical than putting a person to shame for not using private transport? It’s equally the same as to reprimand someone for not being rich.
Besides, you should mind that if you don’t bow to this transformed form of violence, and you decide that your child and you won’t get off public transport, all that compassion and putting to shame will swiftly change into aggression, as in the case of Eka and Mari.
That’s where a fight starts and, as Mahatma Gandhi’s quote runs, then you win. You win, because the public transport and everything that is public, in general, belongs to everyone irrespective of their differences.
And, most importantly, don’t keep silent and never give up figting. Fighting for what you believe in always makes sense. If Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks had been forced to get off the Montgomery bus due to their skin color in 1955, the present-day equality and freedom standards in the USA would have been late in coming.