LAHORE: Controversy-prone provincial information minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan was at it again on Tuesday when he made extremely insensitive remarks about differently abled children and their parents.

Addressing a press conference on coronavirus situation in the province and the measures being taken by Punjab government to handle it, Chohan, flanked by health minister Yasmin Rashid, came up with the absurd comments on special children and their parents.

Warning hoarders (of masks, sensitizers) and profiteers of Allah ka azab (God’s wrath), he said: “Those who hoard and indulge in profiteering are punished with maazoor (differently abled children). The parents’ sins impact their kids.” “Whosoever follows this selfish notion that Apna sub kuch banta, bhar main jaey janta (I am entitled to everything, to hell with people), God punishes them with handicapped children,” the minister said.

The remarks caused a storm on the social media, forcing federal minister for human rights Shireen Mazari to clarify: “Special children are not an azab (wrath), but special human beings to be cared for and loved, to be allowed to develop their own potential. In fact, no child can ever be an azab and for anyone to make such an inhuman, cruel statement is absolutely unforgivable and condemnable.”

The opposition onslaught was led by none other than PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif himself. He reminded the rulers: “Special abilities children are our asset, not a liability. Hope better sense prevails among those who want to be rulers.”

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also rapped Chohan’s statement saying: “HRCP is deeply concerned at the statement made by the Punjab information minister who has suggested that children with physical and mental disabilities are born as a result of their parents sins. This is irresponsible and callous.”

In another tweet, the HRCP continued: “More shocking is that he made these remarks in the presence of Punjab health minister Dr Yasmin Rashid. Ministers must refrain from making such statements that promote ignorance about disabilities and cause hurt to those who lived with them.”

These tweets were in addition to hundreds of remarks that lambasted the logic and content of the minister’s statement.

It is not the first time that Mr Chohan has caused embarrassment to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government by uttering senseless remarks. He was sacked as a minister (for information and culture) in March last year when he made inconsiderate remarks about the Hindu community.

However, he was again included in Punjab cabinet in December last after his party colleagues Samsam Bhukhari and Aslam Iqbal failed to perform up to the satisfaction of the prime minister.

Following adverse reaction on social media, Mr Chohan typically retreated in the evening, saying: “My remarks were against those involved in inhuman practices of hoarding and profiteering in this moment of national crisis. They were never intended to cause distress to disabled children and their parents. My regrets if I was not able to convey my point of view in the same spirit.”

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2020