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Sexuality and Disability India

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A model of the vagina sits on a blue tactile chart explaining the menstrual cycle

Of clitorises and condoms

Second in the series of our workshops in Pune, on August 20, 2015, we landed up at Pune Blind Men’s Association’s Technical Training Institute. There we met 17 women with visual impairment who have learned everything from giving massages to call centre training. The participants were shy at first, didn’t wholly absorb when we asked for their consent for taking and publishing their photos, so we asked for a second time later. They replied confidently ‘you can take our pictures, just please don’t publish pictures of our faces with the body models’ (which we never do, anyway). The ice-breaker was fun, as always, with participants desirous of visiting Japan to see the progress they have made aid the visually impaired, while another wants to write a book titled ‘The Struggles of My Life’. None of the girls said they wanted to get married, and our leader Nidhi used that opportunity to steer the conversation towards marriage.

Hemlata Pisal, our resource person, began a session on understanding the body, menstruation and female sexual organs. For the first time at a #SexDis workshop, the word ‘clitoris’ was mentioned. She used the Marathi word ‘shisnika’ for the same and described the pleasure one can experience by touching and stroking it, and also explained how and why we menstruate. One of the participants relayed all this in Hindi to the other participants too. Hemlata further spoke about menstrual hygiene  regular changing of sanitary cloth, drying in sun etc. and engaged in some myth busting — about going to the kitchen/temple when menstruating, among other things.

A concern that came up was the lack of low cost accessible urine pregnancy homekits for blind women. The girls giggled as she spoke about attraction to men, good touch, and pregnancy. More importantly, the girls were told about the need for contraception during sex, and were explained about the CopperT device. She used various analogies to clarify concepts such as discharge and infections, while deftly answering questions about abortion. We then moved on to tactile models and charts to aid in understanding the male and female sexual organs. As always, the girls were shy when it came to touching the model of the penis, but were much clearer about their own bodies after exploring the model of the vagina. Laughter erupted all around during tea break, as everyone ate cream rolls, and someone asked about the shape of the cream roll!

The girls were then divided into three groups, and put up role-plays. These confident and progressive skits explored the themes of romance, consent, trust and sexual violence with a strong reflection of gender roles. We then had Kranti, a legal counselor and POCSO expert, take over and discuss harassment and violence in relationships. There was a discussion on girls being paraya dhan, and Kranti beautifully deconstructed the whole notion, along with breaking the idea of ‘property’, be it paraya or apna. She made sure the discussion about violence is not limited to hitting, but covers all kinds of injustice at the familiar home space. The girls say that they feel unsafe almost anywhere when they are alone, and have had men stalk them and touch them inappropriately too. It was shocking to hear that they received harassing “love letters” in braille too! The girls wish they could retaliate physically, but that is not always possible. Once this topic was thoroughly discussed, Kranti talked about trusting the survivors of violence and the importance of speaking out. While there are those who seek perverse pleasure from harassment, it is important to report such incidents to people we trust. And, as far as possible, one must recognise the people who come with good intentions, as opposed to those with bad intentions.

The girls opine that it is necessary to be married to have sex with a man, but Kranti throws at them the possibility of being abused in the relationship. She asserts that be it at home, work or even in marriage, one must always raise their voice and fight against such incidents, no matter who the abuser is. The girls are in agreement, and the workshop ends with a thunderous round of applause and appreciation for the leaders.