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Sexuality and Disability India

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A young man and woman sit cross legged on the floor facing each other and holding hands

De-constructing ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’

During the second half of day one of the sexuality workshop in Nagpur, we explored topics like dating, relationships and intimacy; busted myths regarding people with visual impairment; used Bollywood songs to explain consent; talked about harassment and safety; and much more. We begin with talking about perceptions/beliefs around people with visual impairment to the tune of ‘Ankhon se tune ye kya keh diya’ and the participants not only state a percentage importance of being sighted, but also say unanimously that the best place to find love is on the internet. Our aim of using songs is to question beauty norms in a relatable and simple manner. This is followed by some myth busting about relationships and marriage, and the fact that disability is NOT passed from parent to child, which is a common misconception.

Participants are then divided into groups for role-plays that tackle various issues that crop up from being visually impaired. They are all extremely topical and well enacted, and everyone has a lot of fun. Post the performances, our leader Nidhi elucidates how being blind and sighted is a subconscious segregation that even the blind are carrying. She adds that we must not have notions such as being sighted or blind has nothing to do with the trustworthiness of an individual.

“Disability is not our identity but only a part of who we are.”

From the performances, the general opinion that emerges is that sighted people cannot be trusted by blind people, which Nidhi is quick to dismiss, before moving on to sexual harassment, safety, intimate partner violence and abuse led by our trainer from Pune workshops, Kranti Devar. She begins by questioning the boundaries of normal and abnormal in respect to people with visual impairment, which leaves the participants stunned. They share that they feel hurt when they are referred to as abnormal by relatives and friends. Kranti continues talking about violence and harassment as well as internalised oppression by the sighted on the visually impaired. She adds that one must report incidents of harassment first to the police and a trusted person as well. She reminds the audience that sighted women face similar policing in terms of going out alone or with friends late at night.

Nidhi throws in an interesting question — several times, even non-disabled men fail to ‘protect’ women they are with, so how can the same responsibility to protect women be given to a visually impaired man? Even more surprisingly, the male participants in the room were of the opinion that rape is more serious than death, and the female participants said that they would rather die than be raped. Kranti asserts that such an attitude is absolutely incorrect, and that a girl’s brain is not lower than her ‘purity’. Eventually everyone agrees that this is true, and one must not think of a woman only in terms of her virginity. ‘If a woman’s respect lies in her chastity/vagina, where does a man’s respect lie?’ quips Kranti, and all the participants fall silent.

To summarise the day’s learning, Nidhi uses three Bollywood songs. First is, “ab karunga gandi baat” — but sex is not all about gandi baat but also safety. Second, we have ‘Zoobi doobi’ from the movie 3 Idiots to point out that love is not filmy all the time. And finally, we play ‘Jaane do na’ from the film Chini Kum, to summarise the session on abuse, coercion, and harassment and bring the first day of our workshop in Nagpur to a close.