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Sexuality and Disability India

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A young girl's hand is guided towards a model of the female reproductive system

‘Do you feel it is unsafe to meet boys or were you told it is unsafe?’

This was the third in the series of our workshops in Pune. On August 21, 2015, we went to Jagriti School for Blind Girls in Alandi, an hour away from Pune, where we were received by a young and enthusiastic group of school girls between the ages of 15 and 18. We conducted a ‘Passing the Parcel’ ice-breaker in the form of a musical train, which meant that instead of passing an object, they tapped the back of the person in front of them and when the music stopped, the last person to pass to be tapped would have to perform something. Though, initially they took some time to start doing any of this, a few of them mimicked their teachers and TV serial actors. We then did a round of introductions with “my favourite food item” and had responses ranging from vada pav to pani puri. That really got them comfortable and talking. We also sang some Bollywood songs, which the girls rendered as loudly as they could. We wondered why they had been so soft and shy earlier, and the girls admitted that they took time to become comfortable with strangers.

Hema and Kranti (from our earlier workshops) begin the session on understanding the body. Hema talks about the changes that occur during puberty in both boys and girls, and both counsellors tell the girls about the ‘code names’ they had when they were younger, to refer to the menstrual cycle. For example, we have ‘my friend has come’ or ‘the crow has touched me’. However, the girls showed little interest in the ideas of romance and marriage. Our team leader Nidhi tried to probe this reluctance in discussion by singing some songs, but the girls are still staunch about their opinions. They also sang without much knowledge on the connotations of the word ‘milna’ especially in the monsoon, as the lyrics of one of the songs put it. One girl says she wants to be independent when she grows up and hence does not want to marry.

We show the girls the body models and talk about kissing and pregnancy and move on to ‘talking to boys’. Most of the girls feel unsafe around boys unless it is their father or brother. Kranti jokingly asks if the girls are allergic to them, but builds on the difference between good and bad touch. She poses the question of action versus intention, and the importance being able to report any and all cases of sexual harassment. She ends the conversation with a detailed explanation of what sexual harassment includes — such as calls, messages and inappropriate touching, among other things, and asserts that the girls must talk about any such incident they experience with someone they trust. The girls agree wholeheartedly.