Disability, Society and Identity

Disability and Inclusion

In a world where disability often oscillates between invisibility and hyper-visibility, Ishan offers insights into the complexities of living with multiple disabilities. Through Ishan's perspective, viewers gain a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by disabled individuals, including misconceptions and stereotypes promoted through media representations and societal attitudes. Drawing from his personal experiences, Ishan emphasizes the importance of support over pity and he confronts societal taboos by advocating for sexual autonomy, greater visibility of people with disabilities and the need for accountability at both the governmental and societal levels, urging individuals to recognize their responsibility in fostering a more inclusive world.

Ishan Chakraborty, an Assistant Professor at Jadavpur University's Department of English, identifies as a queer individual and a person with deafblindness. He completed his M.Phil in 2016, focusing on Rabindranath Tagore's treatment of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata in his plays. Ishan has received recognition for his contributions, including the Abul Kashem Rahimuddin Samman and the State Award for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities in 2019. He has delivered talks on Disability and Gender Studies, presented at conferences like the Criposium by King's College London and contributed to initiatives such as the State of the Internet’s Languages report.

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Transcript

Namaskar!

I am Ishan Chakraborti.

I am an assistant professor at the Department of English, Jadavpur University.

I identify myself as a Cis Queer person and I am a Deaf blind person.

 

Uh number one, either it is completely invisible. 

We don't see disability at all.

Number two, when it is made visible, it's made hyper-visible as it were.

Either the disabled person is made the centre of the entire narrative.

The entire narrative circulates around uh the blindness or the deafness or the disability of the person or what I see is disability is converted into a butt of joke.

A deaf person is made fun of.

Uh, words relating to disability for example blind, ‘ondho’ in Bangla um etc., deaf, kala etc.

These are just bandied around as pejorative, derogatory remarks.

Or even worse, I often see uh that if you if you have to portray uh the hero, the protagonist, in some sort of a glorified light then the easiest way to do is show him or her as being very kind to disabled persons or show him or her, her as being very helpful to disabled persons.

So disabled persons are often used as tools to portray certain other things.

They are not shown as a part of daily life.

I mean you would never see uh the protagonist getting into the bus and seeing a disabled person occupying the reserved seat and maybe moving on to next seat or whatever it is or just striking a casual conversation with a disabled person.

That is something which you would never see.

It is either hyper-visib…visibility or invisibility.

*

First of all, I love the word ‘support’ and it's not ‘help’.

Umm, we are, we are living in a society where we are in a symbiotic relationship.

Umm, this is a completely, first of all, we need to dismantle this kind of an misconception that disabled persons are there, out there to be helped, to be pitied.

That is the first thing which has to be thrown out of the mindset.

The second thing is how can society, I mean there, there can be millions of ways.

Let me start with just, let me just give you a few examples.

Number one, because I'm a person with visual disability, the first thing that comes to my mind is to read out books for me.

To create, to produce audiobooks for me, that, that's number one.

Number two is working as escorts for persons with visual disability.

For example, helping them or supporting them, giving them support when you are uh going to a particular, maybe a building, a public uh uh uh infrastructure, you're getting into a campus etc. so, uh offering your support there.

Or there can be other ways as well, as in creating awareness.

If you are aware, you can make five other people aware of disability.

Um, using the right language.

Um, making people aware of the Rights of persons with disabilities.

Yourself being aware of Rights of persons with disabilities and uh seeing this as a kind of a gesture which one must do, ought to do, as a responsible citizen.

*

First of all, we need to understand that disability is not a monolithic idea.

It's just not one thing out there.

Um in fact, our legislation um Rights of Persons with disabilities act um 2016, it um defines disability as an evolving concept.

What is disability today might not be considered as a disability tomorrow or vice versa, that's the first thing.

So, there is intersectionality within the disabled community.

For example, I am a person with deaf-blindness.

Uh, I am completely left, I am completely deaf in my left ear.

But I also have profound level of visual…vision loss.

So, there I have a multiple disability and there 2 disabilities are intersect…intersecting, interacting with each other in a unique way to create a unique disability itself.

But at the same time, I'm just not a person with disability, I am also a male-bodied individual.

I am also a queer individual.

I identify myself as a cis gay man.

Now what, what does it mean to be a deaf-blind person and a queer individual?

Um, when I am in the queer community, I often feel discriminated because of my disabilities and again when I'm in my disabled community, um, I often fail to explain, uhh often but not always but often, I fail to explain my sexual orientation, my sexual needs etc., my thoughts about partnership, having a partner, going out on dates etc.

They do not often match with my other disabled friends.

Uh so that is a unique situation that I am in.

But also, uh other form, for, for example I'm completely mindful of the fact that I am from an upper-caste background.

I am from an upper-middle-class background.

So caste, caste, class, these can also function as other um other tenets, other forms of marginal identities which interact in turn with disability to create a unique mesh of, of being as it were.

I celebrate it um because I have certain cultural capital but many disabled friends of mine, they have said that ‘you can be so vocal about your queerness, being a disabled person you can, you can quote unquote “afford to do so”, but we can't, uh, we don't have that cultural capital.’

So, we need to understand that as well.

*

The able-bodied persons or even disabled persons, they love to talk about marriage as far as disabled persons are concerned.

Because they see marriage as a quote-unquote “support system”.

People often tell me that I’m 32, so, it's sort of quote-unquote “high time” as it were, and people always tell me that um ‘you must get married, you need someone to take care of you’.

So even this institution of marriage is seen as sort of a support system.

I will be a dependent as it were, I need a caregiver.

So marriage as, as that kind of an institution.

But it’s not about sexuality or pleasure or entertainment that they are talking about.

Um, as if disabled persons, they should be talking primarily about uhh ‘kapra, roti, makan’ that, that are the things and education, probably.

Those are the things that disabled person should be talking about.

Not about sexuality because anyway uhh even today, I must say even today, in a country like India talking about sexuality is a taboo and it's more so if a person is disabled.

Umm, because disability is almost often, almost always associated with some sort of an ugliness, undesirability, pity umm or hypersexuality, monstrous sexuality as it were, some sort of a monstrosity as it were.

Uhh a disabled person enjoying a sex life just like other people, that is, as if not there that is, as if we do not want to talk about.

Within the community, I have seen that parents are very uncomfortable in talking about uh menstruation.

They are extremely uh uh uh uh uncomfortable in talking about masturbation, pleasure.

Uh, for example, as a disabled person, as a queer individual, I have the right to pleasure myself.

I have the right to get into a sexual relationship, a consensual sexual relationship with another person and that's completely okay and I can say, I can say, I can speak about it very loudly. 

Uh but there are friends of mine who say that they are also into relationships etc. but their aim is to get married.

That is the final thing that they are looking for and why marriage?

Because it's going to give them a support system.

So that is how and popular culture, popular media has much to contribute to this very lopsided kind of uh uh uh uh an understanding of disability and sexuality.

Uh, let me share something very interesting with you um uh Nidhi Goyal, uh she’s a, she is a self-advocate plus also a stand-up comedian.

So, she shared a very interesting joke.

So, she said that uh a couple of, uh a couple, a blind couple, they were taking a stroll on a sea beach and suddenly these two male-bodied friends they were sitting on the beach and they just saw this blind couple and said, ‘Humein samajh me nahi aata hai ye log karte kaise hai?’ (We don't understand how they do it.)

And um sort of then Nidhi says that ‘usdin humein samajh me aaya (that’s the day we understood) that, you know, uh, able-bodied persons, sighted persons, they have a torch clipped there…’

(Laughs)

And also, Virali, she is an advocate again.

Um, she is very vocal about her rights.

So, uh she also said that when, you know, people random, she is a wheelchair user, so random people coming to her and asking ‘how do you do?’ and she said that ‘aap log kya khare khare karte hai?’ (Do you do it standing up?)

So, it’s as if a taboo that we don't want to talk about and (claps) yeah.

*

Yeah well, the easiest answer is State Commissioner for Disability.

Um, but you also have the Civil society.

You also have your NGOs, you have other people, uh Advocates, um Activists working for you.

Uh, but I think EVERYBODY is accountable because I am a part of the society and I have my duties to the society.

But the society also has its duties towards me.

The society as a whole must be held accountable.

But the moment I use the word ‘society’ I understand that probably I am de-politicize…politicizing it a little.

I'm spreading it a little too thin.

Therefore, probably it's uh to start the conversation, I think it's important to pin down, to point out that the first, uh uh uh, responsibility of course Government will have to take the responsibility. 

But the person next to you must also have to take the responsibility.

Must also be held accountable.

It's just not that uhh it's their problem, it's our issue, it’s not a problem.

 

Umm, She is my primary caregiver, yes, but she is also in, I mean it's a very cliched phase but for lack of a better phrase, she is my friend, philosopher and guide.

Um, I remember how she, because in a country like India, in a patriarchal society like India, um women caregivers, they are also subjected to various kinds of discrimination.

She was also subjected to various kinds of discrimination.

She had to face various derogatory comments as if she has quote-unquote “not been able to give birth to a healthy child”.

These are the comments that she had to hear from relatives, from uh uh uh other family members etc.

uh, she is a homemaker.

She is not a working mother but uh she is uh, she has always been with me, literally like my shadow as it were.

Um but I also remember how uh she used to constantly give me support.

She, it's she who made me aware of my rights, who made me, uh who gave me the motivation to assert myself as it were.

The day uh I was 19, the day I actually lost my vision completely, I remember that uh that particular day I wept bitterly, um really, with my mother. She also wept with me.

But that was the only day and then the struggle started anew and uh she was there with me.

She was there with me when I was struggling with my education.

She used to read out my books to me.

She used to be my uh uh uh reader as it were.

She used to uh uh also at times she used to work as my amanuensis.

I used to dictate stuff to her and she used to write them for me.

Uh, um I I remember how, today I remember how, when she was dressing up, she actually makes me feel, makes me touch the way she has put on a Bindi or the kind of danglers she has worn or the way she has worn her hair.

So that is how or when I am on street, she is actually describing the hoardings to me.

So, when it's the festive season she is actually describing how the street has visually changed during the festive season.

So, in many ways, she is what I am today.

More FAQs

Familiarize yourself with and expand your vocabulary of disability-related terminology! 
A - Assisted living
F - Functional limitations
A - Advocacy
C - Curriculum adaptations
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