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From ‘Sultan’ To ‘Housefull 3’, The Horrid Ways Bollywood Targets People With Disabilities

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By Abha Khetarpal:

Being a person with disability, and working as counselor for persons with disabilities and disability rights advocate I have always raised my voice against discrimination and stereotyping of disabled people.

Disability metaphors and analogies abound in our culture but disappointingly, Bollywood continues to shut out persons with disability with blatant ableist dialogues and storylines, which objectify disabled bodies. Recently I heard a dialogue in the movie “Sultan”, where Salman Khan, with a characteristic bhai-like style says, “Shah Rukh Khan ke mazak mat udao. Manne bahut pasand hai” (Don’t make fun of Shah Rukh Khan. I really like him) and then adds, “Jab woh ladki ke aankh mein aankh daal ke dekhe na, toh andhi ladki bhi pat jawe” (When Shah Rukh looks straight into the eyes of a girl, even a blind girl cannot resist his charm).

This seemed to me not only offensive but also humiliating, and I strongly condemn the reference to disability in this dialogue, which I feel, was scripted only with the intention of generating a few laughs. I completely fail to understand what is so funny about it.

Housefull 3 also targets disabled people in a bizarre and offensive way. The portrayal of three non-disabled men, who pretended to be blind, deaf and a wheelchair user, as a ruse to get married to three rich girls pushes forth the idea that disabled are anomalous and they must either be pitied or laughed at. However, what was most upsetting was Jackie Shroff’s portrayal of a father concerned about his daughters dating men with disabilities, and his constant refrain about how he wants them to marry only ‘normal boys’. At one point Sandy (Akshay Kumar), pretending to be wheelchair user, dives at Bakul’s (aka Jackie Shroff’s feet, saying: ‘Wheel payna papaji’ (touching feet with wheels not with hands). At one point Sandy (Akshay Kumar), pretending to be wheelchair user, dives at Bakul’s (aka Jackie Shroff’s feet, saying: “Wheel payna papaji” (touching feet with wheels not with hands). And at another point he says, “Sab kuchh chal raha hai sirf main hi nahi chal raha hun (everything is moving except me)”.

Don’t you think that this is disability harassment where an undue attention is drawn towards a disability just to create a situation for laughter? To me making fun of someone on the basis of his or her disability, for instance, is nothing less than harassment. And the greater problem here is that harassers neither even know nor feel guilty that they are making disabled persons uncomfortable. When asked about criticism of this movie by some newspapers, the directors unashamedly said, “If the janta (public) is happy, then that is the ultimate high”.

Kader Khan in Mujhse Shaadi Karogi
Kader Khan in Mujhse Shaadi Karogi. Image source: Google

Whether it was in Golmaal (Tusshar Kapoor with his speech disability and Paresh Rawal and his wife as a blind couple), Mujhse Shaadi Karogi (Kader Khan as a person with a different disability, every day), Judaai (Upasna Singh with speech disorder), the present day Housefull 3, and now this disgusting dialogue (in Sultan), human limitations have consistently been exploited, to create a comic effect. Most analogies to disability are often limited, careless, and overly fixed, and the large-scale reach of such films only further perpetuates prejudice and ignorance.

Let me be very clear. We can’t afford to laugh at certain things. Period. And the practice of using people’s disabilities for comic relief is nothing less than perpetuating ableism. Like many other ‘isms’, racism, sexism, et al, ableism is too, a belief system or a set of practices which considers persons with disabilities worthless, limiting their potential completely. Using disability straight away in comparing disabled bodies with non-disabled ones by ridiculing the former, like in the dialogue from Sultan, puts an ableist tag on the whole context. This interpretation of differences as defects is the true root of ableist acts that cause far too many to feel marginalised, discriminated and devalued.

Though disability as a comedic trope dates back to the slapstick days of the silent film era in Bollywood, it has remained a staple ever since. Let me remind you of the fact that disability is NOT a cute fun analogy. It is a part of many people’s lives and identities. No one should ever dare to use the term with an agenda to charmingly appropriate it for whatever other purpose pops into one’s head.

When people use ‘disability’ in this manner, it explains a good deal about how that person thinks of disability and the unthinking contempt with which they regard disabled people. Honestly speaking, quite often movies in Bollywood are seen to exhibit a fundamental lack of understanding as to what disability actually is. In a bizarre way, such usage delegitimises disabled identity. It’s also about some people taking undue advantage of the experiences of other people’s lives and using them for easy, unaware reference. My final submission is that making fun of disabilities, joking about deformities and imitating someone’s limitations can be easily termed as ‘Being Inhuman’.

Featured and banner image source: Google

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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