Rahat Sharma is a final year Law student who is an ardent believer that every dark cloud has a silver lining. Through her words, she continues to pursue the same and is determined to bring about the change awaited.
Sexual Harassment faced by Women with Disabilities
The disabled, for years, have been perceived as nonequivalent to those abled. They are portrayed as less than others with regard to their functioning and contributions in society. People with any sort of disability, be it physical, cognitive or sensory have been continuously subjected to exploitation, behavioural rudeness, along with social embarrassment. This apathetic approach towards those abled differently is due to lack of awareness and respect, which still sustains amongst us.
Not very long ago, our honourable Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi suggested to address the Persons with Disabilities with the term ‘Divyang’(those with divine bodies) instead of ‘Viklang’(those with handicapped bodies). This initiative which took place at the launch of the Accessible India Campaign, an effort to make public places more accessible for Persons with Disabilities, sought to bring about a change in the mind-set of society at a deeper level. However, recently after coming across a plea by Virali Modi, a Disability Rights Activist, I was appalled. She is paralysed from neck down since the past 10 years and is thus wheelchair bound. On 3rd January 2017, in an open letter addressed to Railway Minister, Mr. Suresh Prabhu and Mr. Narendra Modi, Virali shared the gruesome incident of being sexually assaulted by the porters while travelling in trains. She informed that it was not the very first time that she was touched inappropriately by the porters and rather had been harassed many a times since the year 2008. Further, she took to social media and launched a petition inviting support on Change.org listing the problems and suggestions to curb the same. Following her plea, many other women with disabilities came forward in agreement to have faced similar experiences. Undoubtedly, Virali was not the first to suffer but one of the few to come forward and take in hand this issue. If these women supported Virali and had been through the ordeal of being sexually assaulted/abused then why were their lips sealed and what was the reason behind them abstaining from sharing or reporting these incidents? In the past, many news articles have reported episodes of sexual harassment of the women with disabilities. Many in the society take advantage of their disability. There have been cases such as while helping a blind girl cross the road, she was touched in an indecent manner or mental hospitals around the city seen misusing their authority. One particular horrific incident was witnessed lately in the Delhi’s Asha Kiran Home for the mentally challenged women wherein their basic right to live a dignified life was being violated. From women roaming around naked in corridors with CCTV cameras which were viewed by the male employees to the unhygienic atmosphere of their rooms with faecal matter and blood on the floors, they were oblivious of the infringement of their rights. As per reports, women with disabilities suffer twice as much sexual abuse than those who are non-disabled. Whilst raising a voice against the culprits and reporting such incidents, their voices are shunned. The main cause behind this remains the stereotypical notions of the society attached with the women with disabilities. The most prominent assumption is of them being ‘Asexual’. An asexual person is identified as someone who has no sexual feelings or desires. Therefore, when they inform of their plight, they are instead mocked at for as to how could an asexual person be sexually abused? It is apparent through such behaviour how those who are entrusted with their safety are one with the culprits and are all the more demeaning their being. The brutal instance in the past wherein post the rape of a hearing and speech impaired woman, her hands were cut off so as to prevent her from pointing towards their culprits shows how inhumane the society is becoming.
There lies no answer to why monstrous behaviour. Many blame the upbringing of culprits and their unstable childhood, but does one’s personal suffering give him the liberty to slaughter another’s soul in this cruel manner? How can anyone rationalize this kind of a conduct? To prevent such incidents, stricter policies and sanctions must be implemented. A sexually abused victim may not suffer just physically but mentally too, sometimes for all her life. Some reports have also informed of another unpleasant reality wherein a woman with disability suffers abuse right from the time she enters this world. In many places when girl is born with a disability especially physical, the mother takes her for hysterectomy. Although her reason to take this extreme step is to protect her vulnerable girl child from the devils in the society but she is ignorant of the fact that this surgical operation not only removes all parts of the uterus of her daughter but along with that it completely destroys her soul. Thus, this makes it all the more imperative for us to educate the masses about vital issues by providing proper education and training to raise a child with disability. They can be shown the capabilities and abilities of their children along with their inherent limitless potential which can be tapped through proper help. They are not to be sympathised with, rather to be empathised with. Learning from Virali Modi’s courageous action, let’s be determined to not succumb to such stereotypes and rise above them and be victorious. As Rabindranath Tagore said, “the problem is not how to wipe out the differences but how to unite with the differences intact.”
Opinions expressed are of the bloggers.