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Why should the mentally challenged not have a baby?

Ranjana PandeyBy Ranjana Pandey

THE CASE of the mentally-challenged rape victim in Chandigarh who wanted to keep her baby puzzled me. Here was a person with a triple disability – an orphan, mentally challenged and a woman. And the State, her guardian, failed in its duty to protect her. How shameful is that? The Punjab and Haryana High Court had initially declared her not ‘capable’ of bringing up her child. Don’t people who are not physically challenged have difficulties in looking after their children?

Illustration: Anand Naorem

The court did well to allow this young woman to bear her baby. Her fundamental right has been upheld. If she was incapable of raising a child, she would not have an opinion about it. But she does. This is a testament to her capacity.

That’s the second puzzle. It is not a question of difficulty but of capacity. How do you measure capacity? By measuring the Intelligence Quotient (IQ). What is intelligence? That is a question we are still trying to answer. Scientists have spent decades trying to unravel the mysteries of the brain and how it functions. An IQ of 120 will make you a genius. But will it make you a good parent? A high IQ does not guarantee that you will be socially adept and emotionally healthy.

For the latter, you need to have EQ or Emotional Intelligence. Please measure her EQ because we are not talking of her capacity to earn degrees in a university but of her capacity to create a loving relationship and care sensitively for another human being. It is unfortunate that we define disability by what a person cannot do rather than by what he can do.

I have had a 28-year-long lesson in EQ and IQ. My daughter Devika may be challenged but she has taught me that ‘challenged’ is a word that cannot be defined. She has also taught me that the brain continues to grow, to improve and change. She cannot read the time but has never missed her school bus. She cannot calculate but knows exactly what profit means. She even knows and recognises her own limitations (and how many of us can do so?) and has the generosity and confidence to seek help and support when she needs it. This is intelligence worthy of emulation.

She may be illiterate but she is sensitive. She is the first one to sense your headaches or realise that you are unhappy. She loves being a nurse, dressing wounds and giving medicines. Long before scientists spoke about EQ, Devika taught me that life is about loving and caring more than it is about academic achievements. The National Trust has done the right thing in standing by this young woman’s fundamental right. The State may have failed her by not protecting her from abuse, but now the State has a chance to make amends.

An IQ of 120 will make you a genius. But will it make you a good parent? A high IQ doesn’t guarantee it

There are those who worry that her child may be challenged as well. “Do we want to bring yet another challenged person into this world?” people ask.Who are we to decide? Where are we going to draw the line? Who should draw the line? Today we may decree that no mentally challenged children should be born. Tomorrow, we might say no physically-challenged children should be born, and the day after? Declare no dark children should be born?

We are such an intolerant society, thinking in boxes, looking out at the world from our gated colonies, always afraid of anything different. Do we really want to live in a plastic world peopled with carbon copies of silver screen idols?

Pandey is the founding member of Jan Madhyam, an NGO that works for disabled and economically disadvantaged girls

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