Written by: Nikita Ghodke
Sexual rights are often misunderstood to a limited understanding of one’s right to sexuality. These human rights also include freedom, equality, privacy, security, etc. The International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) defines sexual rights as follows:
“Sexual rights embrace certain human rights that are already recognised in national laws, international human rights documents and other consensus documents. They rest on the recognition that all individuals have the right — free of coercion, violence and discrimination of any kind — to the highest attainable standard of sexual health; to pursue a satisfying, safe and pleasurable sexual life; to have control over and decide freely, and with due regard for the rights of others, on matters related to their sexuality, reproduction, sexual orientation, bodily integrity, choice of partner and gender identity; and to the services, education and information, including comprehensive sexuality education, necessary to do so.”
Persons with Disability (PwD) are looked at with stigma because of disability narratives go unheard. The misconception around PwD being asexual has shaped barriers in accessing sexual rights. It has, in turn, caused a lack of knowledge around their right to sex education, sexual identity, sexual expression and sexual orientations. The need to access these rights helps not only understand their physical needs, but overall fulfilment of emotional and social well-being. The right to information to their sexual rights also provides them sexual safety, and empowers and helps them report sexual violence.
While there is limited literature review on sexuality and disability in India, studies have shown that disabled womxn and girls are at a higher risk of sexual assault. In an article by Scroll, Malini Chib, a disability rights activist, said, “My cousin Shonali Bose made a film called Margarita with a Straw. This film was inspired by me, but it is a fictitious story in which the disabled protagonist, Laila, falls in love with a woman and has a fling with a man. The film ends happily, leaving the audience excited that Laila is alone and discovering herself. I love the film it has its triumphs and storms that are unrelated to me. It is hugely relevant in today’s world, particularly in India.”
“In real world, sex and a disabled body do not mix. We disabled folks have other important things to think about, don’t we? Like, how do I stop spontaneous drooling? How do I say a word without slurring? How do I relieve myself in a restaurant that not only has a cramped toilet, but where the toilet is inaccessible… Where is the time to think of sex or intimacy? Right? Wrong. If you are a sexual person, craving intimacy is something that’s a part of you. You don’t have to consciously think about it. Do you need to be told to think about sex? Well, neither do we. So what if our hands and legs don’t move as yours do, or we can’t see, or we use wheelchairs, or we can’t hold a hand even if we do get a hand to hold? You see, people forget that the most sexual organ in the human body is the brain. If it is intact, I believe that we will think of sex, whether we want to or not.”
A report submitted by the Disabled People’s International (India) and its partners to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in September 2013 highlighted in an article by Mint says, “Almost 80% of women with disabilities are victims of violence and they are four times more likely than other women to suffer sexual violence.”
The article also highlighted, “Sex education programmes for the disabled have, by and large, targeted the mentally disabled who are regarded as particularly vulnerable to sexual victimisation due to difficulties in general understanding and social judgment. But it is not only the mentally disabled who require special sex education programmes, writes Addlakha in ‘A Training Manual for Professionals Working with Adolescents and Young People with Physical Disabilities’ (2005).”
However, the Rights of a Person with Disability Act (2016) does not define or use the word ‘sexual rights’. It indirectly incorporates protection against violence, abuse, exploitation, personal liberty, etc. Accessing sexual and reproductive rights in India is a major issue and those with disabilities face a larger issue with access to basic rights that gets violated or ignored by society.
Another major problem with access is language barrier – with Hindi being the national language, most of the documents are written and accessed in English. In India, around 30% of the population speaks and understands English, while the rest are not very fluent in the language and speak and understand different regional languages.
With linguistic barriers, India battles with another problem of reaching out to a vast population with an imbalance of providing the basic right to information in context majorly with sexual and reproductive rights.