“The wound is the place where the light enters you”
Director Shonali Bose quoted Rumi in her film ‘Margarita With A straw” that is based on her own cousin’s life who has cerebral palsy (permanent movement disorders caused by brain damage). Hereby quoting Rumi, Shonali refers to the process of self-healing in which one comes out of the abyss triumphantly after going through the tough times of despair.
However, this would only happen if the external elements are stabilized and not when a differently-abled is constantly reminded of her/his shortcomings. The film gave us hope for the future of differently-abled in India but this utopia seems to be a distant dream when we take a quick glance of the real facts.
Census 2001 exposed that around 26. 9 million people in India are living with some or the other kind of disability. The same reports documented facts on eight kinds of disabilities – visually challenged, hearing impairment, movement, speech, mental retardation or illness, multiple disabilities and any other kind of disability. The data collected from the survey exposed some harsh realities including the fact that 50 percent of all children with mental illness have never joined an educational institution, and almost 55% of disabled people are illiterate.
The stats clearly indicated the need to act upon the urgency of the situation, by facilitating the disabled population through various means. While the 1995 Disability Act mentions that all the disabled people are liable for equal opportunities; we don’t see any actions taken for facilitating them.
The disability movement in India was a gimmick; the political parties aggressively campaigned for the inclusion of people with disability in the election. As a result, the Supreme Court ordered the state government to provide the election booths with ramps and working on translating the election brochures into Braille. The extension of these orders was further observed in 2007 when the Supreme Court asked the Election Commission for providing them with more facilities.
However, these accomplishments are worthless if we do a reality check around us. It seemed to be an agenda that could be raised to getting votes, and as a result, the political parties included disability issues in their political manifesto.
In countries like the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Peru, and Ecuador; persons with disabilities have held some of the highest positions in the government offices. In recent years, Uganda has worked efficiently to introduce disability-friendly legislation. In 2008, Malaysia rigorously promoted the rights of people with disability to have access to public facilities, housing, transport, education, sport, and cultural life. In Germany, disabled people are eligible for treatment through a nationwide health insurance plan at no extra cost while Japan provides the disabled with special discounts on public transport.
On the other hand, when we talk about India, the disabled people are one of the most marginalized sections of the society and are still facing basic problems like lack of infrastructure, education, and inaccessibility.
Moreover, the social stigma around the disabled makes it impossible for them to take up space dignity and respect in society.
As a disabled person, one doesn’t even get to maintain peace with her/his own body. And if they do, trust our system to do remind them. The discrimination starts from the immediate family, extends to the peers and teachers at school, and slowly it imbibes in every part of the cell, making him/her realize that ‘being discriminated is the new normal’. Soon, it becomes one’s identity- a cloak to hide from the claws of society.
These notions eat up the social life of the person like termites, even if they construct a shield of impenetrability around them, the constant jarring may cause some temporary disbelief in the minds. Despite many awareness campaigns, it remains a taboo in the society.
The society at large believes in certain stereotypes that differently abled are incapable of having sex, have low self-confidence, and get frustrated too soon. We fail to realize, that like an abled-body, a disabled person also deserves to be loved and cared for.
Right from having innocent teenage crushes to finding a more mature romance and a fulfilling sex life, usually, a person experiences it all. The highs, the lows and the heartbreaks of love. It comes as naturally as autumn swiftly replaces winter, but love is not even seasonal when we talk about the differently-abled.
Going through the accounts of people who have dated or are in a relationship with a differently-abled, we come across the common denominator of receiving banal remarks by others,
“How do you guys manage?”
“Is your partner allowed to have sex?”
“Are you going to take care of your partner forever?”
“Will you be taking responsibility for your partner’s expenses?”
“It must have been so hard on you, Poor You!”
These assumptions are made without any concrete knowledge of the actual situation. Most of the times, the couple doesn’t even realize that their relationship is any different from what is apparently ‘a normal relationship’. There is no doubt that being romantically involved with a disabled person can be different but every relationship is different and that’s the beauty of it!
A report published by Indian Express on August 10, 2014 talks about the story of ‘six young men and women who were all afflicted by polio, fell in love’.
“I was affected by polio when I was just four months old. My parents died soon after. My grandparents raised me. They are old-fashioned and were very unhappy about my wish to marry outside our caste. But when they met Vijay, they realized that he was ready to accept me, even though his disability was far less than mine. I use crutches to walk. His family accepted me whole-heartedly, ” says Pramila (one of the former patients at the hospital).
However, this is one of the rare instances of a happy ending. It is not uncommon for people to label differently-abled as asexual, non-sexual, completely dependent, desperate, needy, incompetent, infertile and infantile. These generalizations reduce the core of the person’s existence to the fact that he/she is disabled; and their talents, intelligence, opinion don’t matter any longer.
Globally too, the disabled community is facing problems to cope up with the racing world of dating and ditching. Sites like Match & eHarmony provides special recommendations for people with disabilities. However, despite having opportunities to connect, they face hardships, as dating for the disabled also involves a role of caretaking.
The Indian dating scenario for the disabled is far worse than what we have globally. There are hardly a handful of avenues for disabled people where they can meet and interact with a potential love interest.
Launched in Bangalore in 2015, the Inclov app helps the differently-abled in meeting their prospective partners online and organizes offline meetups where they can bond and get to know each other in a better way. Although the app shares umpteen success stories, the gaps are huge and will take eons before we neutralize the way society behaves towards the disabled community.
The challenge is to create a momentum of shout-outs, where every element of being a disable gets imbibed in our day-to-day conversations. Only then, we can think of a society where we see wheelchair-bound, visually or mentally challenged people roaming around normally and where they can be found in malls, restaurants, schools and in pubs too.
A society that doesn’t ask you questions about your limbs and organs, where love is a connection between two mature people who want to grow old together and sip a margarita and listen to country music while watching the horizon together.