The Edition
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Outrage over insensitivity in 'Ihusaas': a hopeful step towards acceptance and inclusivity?

Uzma Naseem
18 March 2024, MVT 08:31
Uzma Naseem
18 March 2024, MVT 08:31

On March 14th, an episode of the show ‘Ihusaas’ aired on Maldives Public Service Media (PSM) which sparked outrage on social media. The show was heavily criticized for what viewers described as insensitive and intrusive questioning of a disabled child and her family.

This incident has brought to light the importance of creating an inclusive and respectful culture towards disabled individuals. It is imperative for media outlets to be mindful of their language and actions to ensure they do not perpetuate harmful stereotypes and work collectively to promote a society that values inclusivity and respects the rights of all individuals.

The opening episode of this year was supposed to be a heartwarming moment that brought attention to the experiences of a disabled young girl. However, Aminath Namza, the host of the show, received widespread backlash for her behavior during the episode. Outraged locals took to X to call her out on her disingenuous and sensationalized approach towards the young girl and her family. Namza is also a Deputy Minister of Social and Family Development.

As a result, PSM Managing Director Zeena Zahir assured the public that their content committee has been tasked with reviewing the program’s content before its aired. The critics on social media demanded that ‘Ihusaas’ stop romanticizing the experiences of disabled people and to let them have complete autonomy over their experiences and reject unnecessary external input.

On March 17th, PSM responded to the concerns raised by the community about the language used in their latest episode, acknowledging that it was inappropriate. In an effort to improve the program, they held a meeting last Thursday to discuss how they can ensure that future episodes are more considerate. They also met with the relevant department heads, including the host, Namza, to address the issues and confirmed that upcoming episodes will be more considerate. PSM also reiterated their commitment to raising awareness of social issues in the Maldives and supporting those in need.

Muawiyath Mohamed Didi, who lives with cerebral palsy and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), is a passionate disability advocate, who is currently working towards obtaining a Master of Disability Policy and Practice at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia. After the episode aired, he shared his thoughts on the matter via X which gave social media users a deeper insight to the issue at hand.

In his critique, he pointed out that the episode relied excessively on melancholy music which perpetuates the harmful stereotype that disability is synonymous with tragedy. He further noted that this portrayal glorifies the struggles of disabled people and promotes ableism by encouraging pity while failing to address the lack of social services available in the Maldives. Muawiyath highlighted that the episode had a narrative that relied heavily on sympathy which only reinforced existing prejudices and he observed that they failed to discuss what the government could do to provide more support. He also said that the Maldives needs a more accurate and nuanced representation of disability in the media to dispel these stereotypes.

“The key is to stop sensationalizing us,” he said. “And listening to advocates like us”.

Speaking to The Edition, he mentioned that media outlets such as ‘Mihaaru’ and ‘Dhauru’ have recently shown an interest in covering disabled people and their stories through a “strength based, positive lens”. Despite this, he said that there is still a long way to go in the Maldives to ensure that disabled people are accurately represented in the media.

“To promote inclusivity, journalists should get rid of the depressive sad lens,” he said. “Why would you start with depressive music when you draft a story about us – is that not ableist thinking engraved in how you think about us?” he inquired.

Muawiyath remembers the first episode of the program that he watched and recalled that there was a woman who was a wheelchair user featured as a guest. Before the episode started, she was placed on the sofa and her wheelchair was removed from the set. As a result, viewers were not initially aware that she was a wheelchair user.

When he posted about it on X, an individual remarked that it was for aesthetic purposes. Muawiyath was told that the reason for it was that it was an expensive backdrop and they needed consistency in how the episode was recorded. PSM did not wish to move the sofa and put the wheelchair there and re-arrange it again as it would have disrupted the set-up.

Muawiyath’s observation that disability is not inherently negative challenges society’s negative perception of disability. His empathy towards parents of disabled individuals is a testament to his unwavering belief that society’s harsh judgement is misguided.

“They (parents) would try to bring some positivity through language changes but it is harmful in the long term”, he remarked. “We must raise a generation of disabled people who are confident in their own skin and accept the reality of being disabled but at the same time, are assertive enough to empower themselves instead of hiding behind language”.

Muawiyath also hopes to see more media outlets create content about disability and disabled people in the Maldives.