Disability and caste bias: A shared struggle
The Supreme Court of India recently amplified this vulnerability by looking at violence against a blind Dalit woman through the lens of intersectionality. An upper-caste disabled man may have hesitation to engage and interact with people with disabilities belonging to lower castes due to prevailing caste consciousness.
Written by Sanjay Jain
A common thread of vulnerability, victimization and stigmatization run through disability and caste-based discrimination that makes out a strong case for intersectional and interrelational engagement with both these forms of discriminations. Viewing these two types of discriminations through distinct axis provides for empathy and comradery for concerns of one another.
Anchoring the identities of caste and gender with disability helps to comprehend different shades of vulnerability. A Dalit woman with a disability is marginalised both within the disability group as well as from outside, and they are also subject to violence and stigmatization by disabled and nondisabled men within the family and outside. The Supreme Court of India recently amplified this vulnerability by looking at violence against a blind Dalit woman through the lens of intersectionality. An upper-caste disabled man may have hesitation to engage and interact with people with disabilities belonging to lower castes due to prevailing caste consciousness. On the other hand, the antagonization between disabled men belonging to the upper caste and Dalit men with a disability is also well known, with the former deriding the latter for enjoying the “dual benefits”.
Presently, the disability rights movement is mostly limited to claiming reservations in jobs and fighting for petty governmental benefits. The movement has not yet been able to come out of the grips of medical and rehabilitation professionals. Characterization of the disabled as ‘Divyang’ by the political establishment merely endorses the Ableist segregation of the disabled by sugarcoating their disability and from thin air implies divinity in their bodies as much as Mahatma Gandhi had purportedly looked at Dalits as “Harijans,” a term reprobated by the community. Unlike the Dalit movement, there is little realisation in the Disability rights movement about liberation or self-determination. Moreover, disability rights movements are fragmentary, with each type of disability having its own chorus and agenda. In fact, barring a few organisations like National Platforms for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD), India lacks a cohesive and organised cross-disabilities movement.
Alienation by other movements, such as Dalit and LGBTQ, merely compounds the isolation and segregation of the disabled. Commingling of caste and disability issues, apart from generating comradery and solidarity for one another among the members of these groups, would also de-hegemonise the intergroup dialogue by bringing both groups on the same plane. Members of both disabled and backward caste groups would foster the virtues of empathy and interdependence in their interactions. With their politics of liberation, Dalits would revitalise the disability rights movements by salvaging them from medicalisation.
In other words, the social justice movements would become less medicalised and more inclusive. I say less medicalised because non-disabled people must appreciate the lived experiences of differential bodies through different impairments. The social justice movement would also salvage the disabled from the caste consciousness. To be precise, if you want to combat caste consciousness and the labelling of disability as mere medical problems, the disabled need to appreciate the stigmatization arising out of caste, and Dalits must come to terms with the ghettoization of the physically and mentally disabled stemming from crude reduction of disability into diseases or state of being worthy of treatment.
To what extent and how far the Disability rights movement identifies itself with other mainstream movements is an issue requiring empirical and documented research. Of course, I am aware of many disabled comrades, including Milind Yengde, who took cudgels against casteism and ableism by bringing together various social movements. However, I have not seen mainstream activists from other movements recognising disability rights movements as a social issue. It is one thing to speak on behalf of persons with disability and quite another to assimilate the disability rights angle as part of the mainstream movements. In my opinion, the former smacks of paternalism. A world sensitive to physical and mental disability would be wary of polarising disabled versus non-disabled, by perceiving physical and mental disability and social disabilities not as two extremes of the spectrum but as a continuum.
Yearning against ability privileges and perception of normalcy as a quintessence of ableism would drive the world toward the adoption of universal design and would foster the virtues of accessibility and reasonable accommodation.
In Dr. Ambedkar, Dalits got a ‘Massiha’ to accelerate their fight against discrimination based on caste socially, politically, and constitutionally. With one stroke of pen, the Constitution initiated an unprecedented measure of abolishing untouchability and visiting the breach of this norm with criminal sanction.
In sharp contrast, the social demarginalization of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) and characterisation of physical and mental disability as a want and weakness has been simply perpetuated by the Constitution. Time is therefore ripe for Dalits to extend their comradery to persons with disabilities and to embrace this ableism stricken lot as a part of their consciousness. Embrace of the other would nurture politics of authenticity with physical and mental disability being recognised as a part of broader marginalisation in ever-expanding diverse humanity. To conclude, multi-layered oppression caused by the complex intersections of caste, gender, and disability cannot be combated and remedied effectively with single-axis legal discrimination laws and fragmented social movements. The need of the hour is to have an inclusive and progressive coalition of the Dalits and Disabled activists to raise a clamour for de-essentialisation of medicalisation of disability and have compassion and unflinching empathy for the needs of one another.
The writer is a disability rights activist and a professor at NLSIU, Bangalore
Suraj Yengde, author of Caste Matters, curates Dalitality and is currently at Oxford University
Courtesy : TIE
Note: This news piece was originally published in theindianexpress.com and used purely for non-profit/non-commercial purposes exclusively for Human Rights.
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