The term ‘discrimination’ from its go subtly highlights the power dynamics in play as a product of hierarchy. And as we know any hierarchical relationship thrives on the discrimination by the majority – the one who enjoys the legacy of power over the minority which have to be consoled with tokenism and residual leverage.
French post-structural sociologist Michel Foucault cogently identified how the modern construction of schools, hospitals and prisons indicates patterns of hierarchical positions. One look around us and it won’t be hard to grasp Foucault’s brilliant discernment of space as the site of power. All of us are familiar with and users of public space in its multifarious fashion. Whether it is the undulating roads that give the pedestrians and vehicles the bump and trip of their life or the public toilets ‘sulabh’ that one would prefer to avoid if not in uncontrollable situation due to its characteristic filthiness! We have taken the public space for granted to the extent that we don’t shy away from disposing waste products wherever we fancy. But this relationship with public space doesn’t resonate equally for every individual, certainly not for the ‘disabled’ or the ‘specially-abled’ citizens of this nation.
Amidst the climate of elections, where each political party is conceptualizing strategies to outstrip each other, one would rarely come across propaganda addressing the issues and imperatives of the “disabled” people without rendering them as ‘invisible citizens’. One might argue of reservation in government jobs and public transport but all this bouquet of reservations seems like a hurriedly made decisions and an attempt at window dressing. The larger issue lacks a nuanced and educated understanding of empathizing with disability. We have two static and largely visible response towards people with “disability”Â – either it is of pity or of burden. This heightened insensitive and ignorant attitude is reflected in the public space. Many buildings echo their absence of lifts or ramps. The buildings which have lifts, they do not have braille reading on their switches. The plight of the roads is a nightmare for any physically impaired person to move with ease. The buses and trains may have ‘reservation’ for the disabled people but how many of them actually board it? The reason is that the humiliation they face due to their “pathological” physical state. Abuse and harassment on streets intensifies on the “disabled” individuals compelling them to stay inside rather than accessing the public space. Name calling and making them helpless is a sadistic pleasure for many of us. The thrill in dominating others and the power that can be reaped through this domination becomes a source of authoritarianism.
The public space has become synonymous with “able bodied” individuals who feel that access to the public space is their birth right and the private space is the rightful space of the “disabled” people. Since childhood, the image and prominence of “able-bodied” figures have been entrenched in our memory reservoir, thus the image of “disability” evokes discomposure. The biology book, in its depiction of the human body with two legs, two arms, two eyes, one nose, two ears (along with a host of different organs), have ingrained this form of physiology as “normal” and the functional purpose of each organ. Hence, any individual who doesn’t conform to the ‘academic biological model’ of human individuals wrecks uncertainty as well as apathy. This can be attributed to our naÃ¯ve understanding of the “functional value” of human organs. Even the aphorism of “Don’t believe until you see it with your eyes” exemplifies how language itself has excluded the “disabled” individuals from the popular public imagination.
The public space rest on the dominant discourse of the “able-bodied” principles of exclusion of the “disabled” individuals from the public scenario. If we are sincerely resolute to alter the “anti-disability” sentiments that we nurture, then, the preliminary step is to introspect that why we have become like this and then seek transformations.