By Kapil Kumar:
Almost all societies of the world have been hierarchised or stratified on different grounds. Some have their basis of differentiation in race, some in caste and some others in gender. In the midst of all these segments, disability has not been treated appropriately. Although a considerable number of people in this world are disabled, (an estimate provided by W.H.O. reveals that 10 to 15% of the global population constitutes of disabled persons) not much heed is paid to their needs or demands.
Leaving aside Western societies, where discrimination is majorly based on racial grounds, if one takes a closer look at India – religion, caste, gender and class are regarded to be the major basis of discrimination. Basically, the notion of division in humans is based on the principle of superiority and inferiority. Be it physical, intellectual, economic, biological or even on the basis of one’s skin colour.
The discrimination against disabled persons is predominantly grounded in the notion of ableism. The contours of ableism are determined by the criterion of physical fitness. Therefore, the term disability is perpetually up against the benchmark of ‘normal’. In this regard, Dr. Kessler in his book Rehabilitation of the Physically Handicapped written in 1953 observes, “The term normal is not a statistical concept, but a personal judgment in which we use ourselves as the standard, and the subject of our attention as the deviation from that standard.”
Ableism gives way to severe discrimination. By citing my personal experiences, I will try to demonstrate how even those who proclaim to sufferer from exclusion or discrimination themselves, won’t let go of a chance to look down at disabled persons.
Once I went to the market to buy bananas from a hawker. On asking the rate, he responded – for you especially, I have two categories of bananas, one that will cost you Rs. 30 and the other Rs. 35 for a bunch. A few minutes later, a passerby came and asked the rates of the bananas. Now the hawker replied that one category of banana would cost him Rs. 25 and the other Rs. 30. Surprised, I asked the hawker why he lied to me? He responded – I cannot tell a lie to you, so what if you are blind and cannot not see me, God is looking at me.
Here I ask a question from you all – was he really afraid of God? Did he not consider me a fool or vulnerable because of my disability?
While I was working in a college as an ad-hoc assistant professor in 2013, I had experienced discrimination by my fellow lecturers. My colleague, one particular Mr. Sharma, an upper caste, had the habit of sharing his lunch with others. He would pass his box to everyone, in turn, meticulously avoiding me each day.
There was another lecturer in that college – Mr. Behrva (belonging to the lowest caste order of Rajasthan.) This Mr. Behrva once had the onus of escorting me to the staff room. Throughout the way, he guided me with words and avoided my touch, keeping himself at a distance and instructing me to turn left, turn right, watch out, etc. Being guided thus was very insulting for me. I remember Behrva used to criticize the caste system quite vehemently because of the situation he had witnessed back home.
One of my blind friends, after getting recruited as a teacher in Bihar, decided to get married. Talks with a girl’s family were on, but when she discovered that her would-be husband was visually impaired she cried out – “Mujhe khute se Mujhe khute se bandvado, meri shadi rikshawala se karvado, chahe mujhe maar dalo, par meri shadi is andha se mat karvana” (tie me to a pillar, get me married to a rikshawala or kill me, but, do not marry me to a blind person).
I spell out these examples simply to point out that ableism is the worst form of discrimination that the disabled have to undergo on a regular basis. Moreover, such discrimination is not religion specific, nor caste specific and neither class specific. Those who are physically different must face the brunt of ridicule, stigma and discrimination irrespective of which strata of society they belong to.