In olden times, impairment was seen as a punishment, or as salvation from guilt-ridden feelings. In Cinderella, the stepsister was punished with her eyes being poked out for the cruelties she inflicted on her sister, (ending in disability); Oedipus blinded himself after he killed his father, and married his mother (ending in disability). And, the common belief is that if a disabled person performs an act of what we appreciate as divine or human, he is cured of his impairment.
People with impairments are often looked at with sorry faces and it is assumed that they have sinned in their past life, and consequently, they are living with a disability. Two years back, when I was on the train to Delhi, a man outrightly told me that God was happy with me because he has compensated for what I had done in the past. Obviously, he was referring to my past life, about some sins. I came to know this as our discussion developed.
A few films have portrayed disabled people as having a positive feeling for their able counterparts. More of them have disabled people conspiring or hatching a plan. Omkara, a Shakespearean play turned movie (Othello), has Langada Tyagi (Iago) conspiring against Omkara, (Othello), leading him to kill his beloved wife. In Bahubali, Bijaladeva conspires to kill his niece in order to make his son king. Both of them have a disability.
A 1972 Indian movie, Koshish, portrays the life of a couple who could not speak and hear. Kanu, Aarti‘s brother in the film, always pranks and cheats her. He steals money she had saved to buy jewellery and even becomes the cause of her first son’s death. He meets with an accident, and later he is seen on crutches, earning his daily meals and accepting his condition because he did ‘worse’ to his hearing and speech impaired sister.
Koshish is a good attempt to portray the exemplary lives of visually impaired people and how contemporary society treats them. However, the movie depicts a bad fall for those who treat people with disabilities poorly. Because they are helpless and find it hard to lead a normal life, it is believed that God will take revenge on account of them, (the impaired persons) by making the perpetrators like them (as happens with one of the characters, Kanu).
Kaal, the villain of the third series of Krrish, was born in a laboratory, illicitly. Consequently, the experiment failed, and he was born impaired, and, thus, discarded. Anguish and hatred accumulate inside him, and later, he kills his own father for bone marrow that cures him of his impairment. His mission is to take over the world but he is killed by Krrish, the superhero. Not all persons with disabilities are villainous, but they could turn into villains. This is the prevalent thought in society. Kaal is a metaphor for all negativities; either he was subdued and bore with them or he inflicted them on the world.
Vijaypath, 1994, shows ample examples of disability, enough to extract the stereotypes prevalent around us. The lead character becomes visually impaired, and because he had to take revenge, the director leads the event in such a way that he is cured of his vision. It’s as though a disabled person cannot be someone who fights the goons, he can’t be the hero.
Rajesh Saxena, another character, an inspector, also becomes impaired in the legs, and he uses crutches that can shoot! These became so viral that people mocked him saying “don’t mess with him, he has crutches that shoot”. Sometimes, people would playfully pick up my crutches, as if they were a riffle and aim to shoot.
The use of words like ‘Dritrashtra’, (an epic character in Mahabharata who is blind), ‘Surdas’ ,(the 16th century blind poet), ‘Langada Tyagi’(langada, a word used to refer to people who lames), ‘Baisakhi Vs Barood’ (Baisakhi is crutches, Barood is bomb), etc. troubles people with disabilities as much as a man in a war-ridden country fears a torpedo may fall on him, anytime.
But the truth is, what kind of language can we expect from bad guys? It is not that movies are made to propagate bad attitudes regarding a particular class. Millions of people do not watch movies to get a lesson but to entertain themselves, to free their bad mood, etc.
A new perspective could have been born, like in G-Force, a Hollywood movie, where Speckles, a mole, contrives to eliminate humans from the earth because humans eliminated his whole family to get rid of moles. He harbours a grudge against human beings his whole life, preparing himself to retaliate for the wrongs humans did to his family. Finally, like Kaal, he stands alone, armoured with machine-turned robots to destroy the world. But he didn’t meet his end. His friends who raised him convinced him to get over his murderous idea, accepting him again, as one of the superheroes. Luckily, Sparkles is not disabled. And if he is disabled, he must meet his end!
Time is changing fast. What was earlier true is no longer so now. What makes me lament more is when I hear people whispering among themselves, and even sometimes speaking to my face, “you are so crafty; people often think so of the people like you.”
To love, they have no right; in marriage, they have nasty breaks. Does fate always revenge against wrong-doers by making them lame, blind, or of strange appearance? Maybe this was done so that people believed that disabled people were ‘God’s mistakes’ or the ‘incarnation of evil’. Those who dig into disability know that in most of the cases, it might be caused, to a certain extent, either by a human’s mistake (mother’s inappropriate habit in pregnancy period, leading to physical or cognitive disability, inappropriate delivery process, etc.) or outbreak, and mishandling of microorganisms. Malnutrition, diseases, congenital conditions due to gene disfiguration, also add to the origin of a disability.
During class, I often try to steal opportunities to speak about the concerns of individuals with disabilities. Blind, lame, deaf, dumb, retarded are the words nobody likes to be called. They have become metaphors. Even calling someone poor would fetch some kind of troubles. ‘Jahil ‘(illiterate) is also considered as having a negative connotation.
‘People with insufficient means’, for the poor, and ‘people with no literacy’, for the illiterate, would be acceptable. When anyone walks over or pushes someone accidentally, the latter is likely to yell at the former, blaming him, as if he is blind; not watching his way. The former would take the blame as personal and it may be possible that he gets furious and probably punches him. A person fit in all respects, hates being called blind, not because of the meaning, but more because of the social stigma attached to being blind. A blind person is always pitied, helped.
No god is disabled, every devil is in form. If the former happens, handicapped people would get some grace.
Not that attitudes are not changing. I never feel left behind because of my physical impairment among my friends. But that’s not true with everyone. I had my turns, my words, and my filters. The silver screen has drastically changed in depicting characters with impairments.
After 45 years, Kaabil, an Indian movie, tried to establish an attitude against what Koshish set in the character of Kanu. Here, the culprit was not let free to be punished by fate. This movie also sketches the life of a visually impaired couple. When the lead female character, who was blind, found herself helpless in front of a perpetrator, she killed herself. She did this knowing that her husband, a visually impaired person himself, would suffer later; fate did not avenge the person by making him disabled, as was done in Koshish in 1972.
We are not demons; we are neither gods. We worship; we don’t want to be worshipped. We are good; we are bad. We are you, the abled-bodied. Fate runs with us as it runs with you. We do not want anyone to be Gandhari, the obedient wife of Dhritrashtra, who, because Dhritrashtra cannot see, blindfolds herself in order to feel her husband’s struggles in life. We want promises kept; we want love felt. We want roads spread to infinity; we want building access. We want air immunised; we want soil acknowledged.