Posted by Anchal Bhatheja
All through these years, as a girl with visual impairment who had been born and brought up in a religious and patriarchal Punjabi household, I encountered humans who either dehumanised or superhumanised me. Since the time I had “blindness”, people also turned “blind” to my humanness and normality. This extraordinary treatment for the still ordinary me manifested itself in two ways. At one hand, due to my visual impairment, I was made to realise and then believe that I was a sinner. On the other hand, I was made an object of inspiration porn and was made to believe that I was a saint.
With regard to the first issue, having a daughter in a patriarchal setup is already a matter of shame and considered a charging section for the crimes committed in the previous birth. Adding to that, having a daughter with disability is a more cruel punishment for more brutal a crime. People come up to my parents and say it with a sigh, “pata nahi kaunse bure karam kiye the?” or “who knows what kind of sins did you do in the past?”. They say it with impressive confidence as if the rulebook of life contains the following provision:
At one hand, due to my visual impairment, I was made to realise and then believe that I was a sinner. On the other hand, I was made an object of inspiration porn and was made to believe that I was a saint.
“Whosoever commits condemnable felonies in the present life shall be cursed with a disabled daughter in the next birth”. Of course, this sense of pity abomination and prejudice is not only received by my parents. Even I receive it in the form of painful blessings wherein these extremely religious people say, “may god forgive your sins“.
Once, a random aunty walked up to me and told me that I had done bad deeds in the past birth which translated into my visual impairment. When I tried to react, my dad stopped me saying that I need not argue for it would be a wastage of time and energy. However, I still scratch my head thinking that: if that woman did not know about my medical condition and maybe did not even know my name, how could she guess and make confident assertions about my karma?
Many a times, my dad tries to stay passive and attempts to pacify me when I try to rebel against this subtle act of labelling both of us criminals. But, he has another coping mechanism that sometimes turns my sins into saintliness. He starts talking about my academic achievements, resilience and the umpteen amount of abilities I embody.
When I suddenly turn into a saint and become eligible for all the appreciation not because I have won something. But because I have lost my eyes and I still carry a smile on my face. I suddenly become an example for others because I am alive despite my disability.
And then, people bombard us with curiosity, questions and then awe.
This sense of inquisitiveness gradually but painfully turns into inspiration porn. When I suddenly turn into a saint and become eligible for all the appreciation not because I have won something. But because I have lost my eyes and I still carry a smile on my face. I suddenly become an example for others because I am alive despite my disability.
I find this superhumanising of the disabled to be problematic on many counts. First, inspiration porn puts an invisible pressure on me and all the other disabled to be “inspiring for real”. I and all the others like me are often told that we are embodiments of resilience and then the pressure to meet these expectations which are not grounded in any practicality or rational becomes so strong that any failure leads to a sense of hopelessness and self-denial amongst the disabled. Many a times I am told that they can’t just be sad for they are inspiration for many. To all the ones who asked me, “How do you stay happy when you are blind?” or “how can you be sad, you are just awesome?”, please understand that the disabled are humans and they also feel pain and pleasure. They have the absolute right to express it when they feel like. Disability does not disqualify anyone from staying happy or sad.
Secondly, inspiration porn is a mere tool of giving a guilt trip to the able bodied that if a blind or a deaf or a dumb or a crippled can do X thing, then X is definitely a cake walk for the able bodied. Feminists have often talked about the male gaze that the women are subjected to. I have something to add to this. The women with disabilities are subjected to male gaze and the gaze of the able bodied which makes this uncomfortable gaze even more uncomfortable.
I am neither a sinner who deserves rebuke nor a saint who deserves to be labelled as an object of inspiration.
I am neither a curse for having certain abilities and lack thereof and nor a burden or punishment for being someone’s daughter.
Anchal a second year student at national Law school of India University, Bangalore. You can find her on Facebook.
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