‘God gave us mouths’: Indonesia’s Social Affairs Minister Risma forces deaf and mute boy to speak

Social Affairs Minister Tri Rismaharini, who’s popularly known as Risma, is in hot water after a clip showed her forcing a deaf child to speak up in front of an audience ⁠—  during an event for this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, no less. Screenshot from YouTube/Kemensos RI
Social Affairs Minister Tri Rismaharini, who’s popularly known as Risma, is in hot water after a clip showed her forcing a deaf child to speak up in front of an audience ⁠— during an event for this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, no less. Screenshot from YouTube/Kemensos RI

One may be forgiven for having little hope for the welfare of disabled people in Indonesia, after the country’s social affairs minister ⁠— whose job it is to ensure their well-being ⁠— practically outed herself as an ableist.

Social Affairs Minister Tri Rismaharini, who’s popularly known as Risma, is in hot water after a clip showed her forcing a deaf child to speak up in front of an audience ⁠— during an event for this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, no less. 

In a video uploaded to the Social Affairs Ministry’s official YouTube channel yesterday, Risma was filmed visiting exhibition stands displaying the works made by persons with disabilities. At one painting booth, she asked two young boys to go up on stage with her. 

Though one of the boys is capable of speech, the other ⁠— who’s been identified as Aldi — is reportedly deaf and mute.

“Now I ask you to speak without using any [assistive] device. Speak, Aldi, you can speak,” Risma told Aldi.

The blatant display of ableism from a high-ranking official prompted Stefanus, a representative from the Movement for the Well-Being of Deaf Indonesians (Gerkatin), to criticize her on stage through a sign language interpreter.

“Ma’am, I hope you already know about CRPD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities). Deaf children must use hearing aids, but not for them to be forced to speak. I was really surprised when you stated [that to Aldi],” Stefanus said.

During this interaction, Risma responded by walking toward Stefanus and putting an arm around him, cutting him off mid-sentence. Stefanus then went on to explain that deaf people have different characteristics and varying degrees of speech capabilities, which is why able-bodied people must respect the importance of sign language.

Yet Risma seemingly refused to empathize with deaf people.

“So Stefan, I didn’t [mean to] reduce [the use] of sign language. But you know, God gave us mouths, ears and eyes. What I wanted to teach you all, especially the children who use hearing aids, they don’t have to remain mute. That is why I pushed you all to speak, so that we can maximize what God has given us,” Risma told Stefanus. 

Ah yes, another example of ableism that comes with an explanation from the minister herself.

Clips from the event have since widely circulated, unsurprisingly drawing intense criticism from the public today. However, as one might expect, the original video is nowhere to be found on the ministry’s YouTube channel at the time of writing. Risma also has yet to respond to the controversy.

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