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It’s Horrifying What Girls & Women With Disabilities Go Through In Our Society

Posted: July 8, 2021

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With crime against women grabbing news space everyday, this Madras HC’s observation is just the obvious truth, even if they focus on women with disabilities.

“Despite the implementation of harsh penalties, society’s attitude toward women has not altered fully. From the womb to the grave, she has been surrounded by violence,” the Madras High Court stated in the course of delivering a recent judgement. “Women with disabilities are sometimes doubly discriminated against, as women and as individuals with impairments.”

These observations by the Court may leave a major section of the society uncomfortable but these are harsh truths, which the Court has brought to the fore.

A personal experience of a relative with neurological disabilities

I remember my mother telling me a gruelling tale of a far off relative, a girl born with neurological disabilities. Her disability meant that her mental growth and cognitive maturity would be hampered.

Her parents thankfully did not restrict her to a confined space unlike how most differently-abled people were treated by their families back then. But they were so worried for her ‘safety’ that they had her hysterectomy done when she was hardly 20.

However much her family may have justified their decision, it is still a violation of her bodily autonomy. The hysterectomy meant that the woman would be rid of her periods which could be nearly impossible for her to manage in case she did not have someone to take care of her one on one later in life. But will it really keep her ‘safe’ from any possible sexual assault? It will certainly prevent any unwanted pregnancies that she would not be able to manage.

If anything, this action underlines the fact they had unfortunately expected that she could be sexually assaulted some time in the future. Which means sexual abuse is a given for a woman.

It is very painful that the family took this step expecting she could be sexually assaulted in the future. This is the sad and sorry reality – that sexual abuse is considered given for a woman. When I read about the present case, it immediately reminded me of this sordid tale my mother had told me, an incident that happened almost 4 or 5 decades ago. I wonder if anything much has changed since then.

Facts of the case

This incident took place in November 2013. The survivor who belonged to the Arunthathiyar community of Tamilnadu had a speech and hearing disability. She had taken her goats for grazing when the three accused men assaulted her and attempted to rape her.

Two boys who had accompanied the survivor attempted to protect her, but they were pushed off by them. These boys then rushed to the survivor’s father. As soon as her father arrived the accused fled from the scene. The survivor narrated her ordeal to her father through sign language and gestures.

The accused were charged under the Indian Penal Code and the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 as the survivor belonged to a community currently classified as scheduled caste. The trial court convicted all the three accused in 2016, who then appealed against their conviction in the Madras HC.

In its proceedings on the case, the Madras HC upheld the conviction of the trial court.

Women’s safety and respect is spoken of, but is it ever practised?

The Court in the present case stated “Everyone accepts that we are to treat women well. But that is not enough. It’s time to work, to make sure that all men treat women well.”

It is saddening that this needs to be stated by the court. A vast majority of men in the country have failed miserably on being decent human beings who can see women as fellow human beings, especially to those with disabilities, or those belonging to a marginalised community. People with disabilities are either treated with disdain, pity, or mocked. A woman with a disability endures far worse apathy and discrimination from society.

Even as I write this, I can see this news flashing on my computer screen Kerala: Mentally-ill Woman Allegedly Raped Inside Parked Bus, Narrates Ordeal To Parents (msn.com) and I am left wondering are we evolving or regressing as a society? In the words of English novelist, Lawrence Sterne “Respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our manners.” It’s time we questioned the lack of respect and dignity with which women are treated in our society especially by men as it collectively raises questions about the manners or the lack of it among the members of our society.

When are we to ever have a country in which we don’t have to be constantly vigilant for our safety?

Image source: a still from the documentary A Vision of Hope

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