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Creates a framework for portraying disabled people in media.

The Supreme Court of India recently discussed and came to a judgment regarding the controversy surrounding the movie “Aankh Micholi.” A disability activist, Nipun Malhotra filed a petition claiming that the film featured discriminatory and demeaning content about PwDs- Persons with Disabilities.

Judge JB Pardiwala and Chief Justice D. Y. Chandrachud’s bench ruled that “… if the work’s overall message infringes the rights of persons with disabilities, it is not protected speech, obviating the need for any balancing… The filmmaker’s right to keep a derogatory or stereotypical portrayal in the movie must be weighed against the statutory and fundamental rights of the people it depicts, if the film’s overall message justifies it.

The Court determined that the framework of law placed a strong emphasis on preventing discrimination and stigmatization, acknowledging their significant influence on the identity and dignity of individuals with disabilities. It did note, though, that historically oppressive representations of disabled people still exist.

Chief Justice Chandrachud called attention to the ways that visual media and movies often reinforce stereotypes about people with disabilities. The court took note of the depiction of people with specific disabilities as “super-cripples.” The CJI’s verdict, dubbed “path-breaking” by Justice Pardiwala in open court, stated: “The film cannot be bound by restrictions beyond those placed in Article 19(2) as long as the overall message rationalizes the representation of disparaging language being used against people with disabilities.”

The Court further stated that the social model, which sees disability as a result of social obstacles that disable such individuals, renders the medical model’s treatment of disability as a personal “tragedy” that is by definition incompatible with humor obsolete. Stereotypes originate from a lack of knowledge about disabilities, which is brought about by the underrepresentation and lack of involvement of people with disabilities in the mainstream discourse. The Court held, therefore, that “disabling humor,” which disparages and denigrates people with disabilities, must be distinguished from “disability humor,” which questions accepted notions about disabilities. Given that disability humor aims to clarify and improve understanding of disability, both cannot be compared in terms of how they affect stereotypes and people’s sense of self-dignity.

In addition, the Court established a framework for how people with disabilities should be portrayed in visual media consistent with the RPwD Act and the Constitution’s anti-discrimination and dignity-affirming goals, turning the case into a landmark judgment. This is in accordance with the ruling in Vikash Kumar v. the Union Public Service Commission which emphasized the equal application of the Constitution’s Part III fundamental rights to people with disabilities. For those who work in the media industry—writers, directors, producers, and actors—training and sensitization campaigns ought to be created. These shows should emphasize how their depictions affect how the general public views people with disabilities and how they live. Topics such as the need to use courteous language and the need for accurate and empathic portrayals should be discussed.



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