This is a guest post by DORODI SHARMA
In 2009, as a writer for a disability news portal I got a note back with one of my stories from the director of the organisation. “Suffering from disability”, I had written about someone. The note said “I have been a wheelchair user since the age of 15, and trust me I am not suffering.” Over the years, the first document I shared with new employees of the disability rights organisation I worked for in Delhi was a document on ‘disability etiquette’ that outlined not just terminologies but also the acceptable ways of interacting with people with disabilities. Yes, even in the 21st century we need to coach people on ‘interacting’ with a section of humanity. The discourse on importance of language has taken a new meaning when recently Prime Minister Narendra Modi called people with disabilities ‘divyang’ or people with divine abilities. The reaction to this has been outrage, to shaking of heads, to complete indifference. But it is important to talk about language when it comes to disability because it reeks of charity and reflects the patronizing attitude that prevents people with disabilities in India from getting their due.
Let us be very clear, disability is part of human diversity. Disability is as normal or abnormal as being a man, woman, gay, lesbian, person of colour, or any other variation of being human for that matter. Why then do we look at disability as something that needs to be ‘overcome’? With the proliferation of social media, we are now faced with innumerable ‘inspiration porn’ posts. Yes, inspiration porn. As described by Stella Young, Australian journalist, comedian, and activist – inspiration porn is objectifying people with disabilities for the benefit of non-disabled people. Young said the purpose of these images is to inspire people, to motivate them, so that they can look at them and think “Well, however bad my life is, it could be worse. I could be that person.” Precisely for that reason, people living with a disability are tired (and angry) of all the euphemistic terminologies used about them. No, they are not specially-abled, or differently abled, or ‘divyang’ for that matter. They are persons with disabilities and disability is a crucial part of their identity, just like one’s gender, race, or nationality.
Continue reading Disability, Language, and Empowerment: Dorodi Sharma
Guest Post by REKHA REVATHY
A so-called normal person may sometimes wonder how blind people like myself travel to work or move about in other public places like railway stations, bus stands, airports and roads. Large numbers of blind people also travel as commuters in metro trains in Mumbai as well as in buses and local trains, autorikshaws and other transport. They face many difficulties, big and small, in their travel. Some are comfortable with their daily commuting because they have adjusted to the conditions which they have endured for long. Some blind people always take the help of an escort during such travels. But finding an escort daily is not easy and also, what if a blind person depends on his/her colleague in office or a friend to travel to school or work daily, if on any day that colleague or friend is not able to come, then he/she becomes helpless. And in such situations they will be put to a new challenge of reaching their destination in time by themselves. And of course, moving to a different place or a new place is much more difficult for a blind person.
Moving about at the work place is less challenging than traveling in buses or trains for the blind, although there are still difficulties like climbing the stairs, locating their seats, keeping things in their place, going to the dining room, using the wash room and so on. But there are blind people who do all these things without any sighted help because they have adapted to their environment. But it also takes some time. Any changes made in the premises puts them in confusion – changes such as construction of a new counter, changing the positions of chairs tables etc, fitting of a new door or changing the positions of water jars. It is also a fact that blind people cannot always find a person to help them out in their work places. And sometimes they end up injuring themselves. Continue reading Moving With Darkness: Rekha Revathy
Guest Post by Rijul Kochhar
In the lives of the disabled, the disability certificate is a commanding entity. It is the artefact of government and the state that interprets the myriad experiences of persons dealing with disabilities, translating and transforming those experiences into a public fact. Thus, the disability certificate offers a particular form and definition of disability, with its attendant mathematical percentage, supplanting the shards of experience with bureaucratic rationality and certitude. This transformation of messy lived experience into mathematical and medical certainty, at once, also affects that larger lived experience of lives lived with a disability.
Continue reading The Double Cruelty of the Rights of Persons With Disabilities bill: Rijul Kochhar
Guest Post by AMITA DHANDA
The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill 2014 has got caught in the crossfire of different disability groups. Whilst one body of opinion holds that the Bill is regressive, incoherent and needs to be heavily reworked before it can be enacted; the other perspective is that the Bill may not be perfect but at least it provides something to those who are not included in the 1995 Act. People propounding the something is better than nothing logic, also pertinently point out, that while persons with disabilities who are included in the 1995 Act can afford to wait, that luxury is not available to them.
Thus, the strongest case for passing a less than perfect legislation comes from persons with impairments which are not covered by the 1995 Act. Significantly, the Bill of 2014 has changed the definition but other provisions, which need to be incorporated in theBill, to ensure that the freshly inducted persons with disabilities obtain all the entitlements (including job reservations) have not been included. It is submitted that without those provisions being included the expanded definition is going to be of little benefit to the freshly included disabilities. Continue reading Will the new Bill benefit the freshly included disabilities? : Amita Dhanda
Guest post by Amba Salelkar, Inclusive Planet Centre for Disability Law and Policy
The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill was meant to be an enactment to codify India’s obligations under the UNCRPD, which it ratified without reservations. There was a Committee set up in 2009 by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, headed by Smt. Sudha Kaul, to draft a Bill to this effect. Like the UNCRPD says, the Committee included different people with disabilities – across disabilities – to draft this Bill. The Draft Bill of 2011 was submitted to the Ministry, and in response to that or otherwise, the Ministry released a Draft Bill in 2012, which are both on the Ministry’s website.
The Draft Bill of 2012 is not as comprehensive and inclusive as the 2011 one, and there were certain serious issues raised before the Ministry on the notification of the 2012 Draft. Thereafter the Draft, apparently still in its 2012 format, went to the various Cabinet Minstries, and then circulated among States. Some version of this Bill was cleared by Cabinet in December 2013. Thereafter, organizations of persons with disabilities, confident that the 2012 Draft was intact, began protests for the speedy introduction and passage of the Bill. I do not know why they did not believe that there had been changes made, but I assume it was in good faith. These protests were largely led by groups in Delhi who had better access to information. Some pockets of regional groups were demanding for information on the contents of the Bill. They remained unanswered. Meenakshi B of the Disability Rights Alliance, Tamil Nadu, followed up with the Ministries and the general passage of the Bill, and she was told that the Bill was ‘top secret’. Vaishnavi J, one of the founders of The Banyan, also received similar cryptic feedback.
Continue reading A Critique of The Draft Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014: Amba Salelkar
Guest post by RIJUL KOCHHAR
Contrary to what they may tell you, they don’t really give a damn about the disabled in this country. Systemically flouted laws, polite terms substituted for impolite realities, and stony silences meted to those who seek to question—these comprise the working of the disability model in this nation, a model that only goes so far as the abundance of obligation and ‘feel-good’ eye-wash will take it. The juggling of words—‘disabled’ for handicapped, then annihilation of ‘crippled’, and finally that awful phrase regnant in contemporary fashionable use, ‘differently/specially-abled’—constitutes our single biggest achievement as far as dealing with the disabled as rights-bearing persons is concerned. Continue reading Disability Law Violations in Delhi University admissions – notes from the margins: Rijul Kochhar
Bed pan stories
“Yet in the different voice of women lies the truth of an ethic of care, the tie between relationship and responsibility, and the origins of aggression in the failure of connection.”- Carol Gilligan.
This piece will stray away from, but not abandon, the discussion about navigating public space with reduced mobility. This time let’s take a little peek into private spaces (ok, let me admit it now: this sounds more fun than it is!J)
After the initial shock and pain of this injury has worn off, the first thing that hit me is how dependant I am on others for the most basic things. The excretory system takes on a whole new dimension. Mundane things like shitting and pissing become a chore. When loved ones stick a bed pan under you and clean you up after, one is forced to break personal boundaries with those people or realize that the boundaries don’t actually exist.
While admitted at the general ward at the AIIMS Trauma Centre, the class pyramid could be seen and felt. I was at the very top. But class wasn’t the only difference between me and the other patients. With one exception, almost everybody else I could see around me were men. All of these men were being taken care of by women, presumably their mothers or wives. While in the hospital, I had four friends, (two men, two women) taking turns as my primary caregivers. Every time the curtain was pulled shut so I could pee, any one of them could have come out to empty the bed pan. The four friends told me that the fellow patients and their attendants would joke with them when they were leaving saying ‘duty over??!!’. No one could figure us out: not the hospital employees, not the patients, and definitely not the other caregivers. Not only was there the eternal mystery of what relationships exist between these people and me, but also a mild scandal when men walk out with my bed pan.
Continue reading Disability and the City Part III
Hobbling on the beach
I was born next to Elliot’s beach in Besant nagar in Chennai where I spent a large amount of my childhood and adolescence A small caveat about this area: Besant Nagar is considered one of the posh areas in Chennai. However, like many such places the combination of communities the class composition of this area is far more complex; large bungalows of film stars and the like co-exist with the Uroor slum. By co-exist of course, I don’t mean for a moment that they peacefully co-exist. They are next to one another (sort of) and there are many who are out there to change that. The slum has been destroyed by humans (more often) and natural disasters many a times. The latest being a bid by the government to build an elevated highway next to the ocean displacing the entire slum (again!). But that’s another story. (http://letsrob.org/home/)
The beach itself is an interesting space in my city, it is one of the few remaining public spaces that people can come and relax in without paying. But there are unsaid divisions within the beach. Having known this particular beach almost my whole life, I know that there are different unspoken, unmarked sections for the rich, the poor, the lovers, the lusters, the friends, the random teenagers who would have just met two minutes ago and aunty-uncle couples who have been married for time immemorial. Of course, the way these boundaries are drawn and where you find yourself changes according to a variety of factors.
After a fascinating flight journey (which will be another piece in the series), my first outing in Chennai few days after I reached home was to my beloved beach. Continue reading Disability and the City Part II
I broke my leg three weeks ago. I cannot walk till end September. But I hope to get around the city a little bit during that time and I hope to record that experience. This I hope will be a multi-part series and here is the context:
I will be getting around either in a wheel chair or with my walker where I will be hobbling on one leg. Otherwise, my appearance right now is a bit ragged as my hair isn’t getting combed every day, primarily because I am lazy but I look like I am from a relatively well off family. And I look fair enough to be a Brahmin (a dark one) but can’t tell for sure immediately. Oh, and I am a woman. Visibly so.
Continue reading Disability and the city Part I