In 2014, Human Rights Watch released a report on the abuse faced by women and girls with psychological or intellectual disabilities in institutions in India. Titled “Treated Worse Than Animals” , the report spoke of issues such as forced institutionalisation, the poor condition at the institutions, forced treatment and denial of proper and adequate healthcare, violence and exploitation and lack of access to justice. The picture of the life of these women, as it emerged from the report, was needless to say grim.
Parliament recently passed the Rights of Persons With Disabilities Bill, 2014. While the new Act covers many more disabilities and issues, is it equipped to address the challenges that a differently abled woman faces in her daily life?
Abuse is not restricted to those suffering from psychological or intellectual disabilities or at institutions. It can come from neighbours. As in the case of a 23-year-old girl with multiple disabilities in Bengal’s Hooghly district who was gangraped and then thrown from a the roof of a neighbouring house, remembers Kolkata-based disability rights activist Shampa Sengupta. “Though one of the accused was arrested, he was later released on bail. The neighbours often side with the abusers because they will they shouldn’t have to suffer for a woman who is not fully productive in society. The family is living under tremendous pressure,” she says. There have been cases where hearing-and-speech-impaired women have had their hands cut off by their abusers, after being raped, so that they can’t point out who abused them.
Often abuse starts right at home. “There are two kinds of abuse that women face at home – either neglect or too much attention. In either case she is denied control over her life,” says Kolkata-based academician and activist Nandini Ghosh. There are also instances of physical and mental abuse. Researchers have mentioned how during festivals or celebrations in the family, the disabled woman is left out. “I have seen many mothers coming with their disabled daughters to get a hysterectomy done. The excuse is that her disability will make her vulnerable to abuse. So are we trying to legitimise abuse then? The message we are sending out is that abuse is okay, but pregnancy is not,” says Delhi-based academician and activist Anita Ghai. At times abuse comes in the form of subtle discrimination. Mumbai-based disability rights and gender justice activist, Nidhi Goyal in one of her blogs quotes a woman as saying that whenever there is a marriage in the village she is invited, but encouraged to not come. “I am told there are many steps to the venue and it will be difficult for me,” she says.
“We have very little segregated data relating to women with disabilities. So it is difficult to make out a case for them”
The fear of abuse is manifold as one steps out in the public space. “Our public places are not built for the disabled. A visually impaired girl will have to seek assistance to cross the road. She often gets groped,” says Goyal.
Schools too become sites for abuse. “Disabled girls need to be escorted. After school often they have to wait for someone to come and pick her up. She becomes a soft target for people from outside coming to the school or even the support staff,” says Ghosh.
Then there is the mental trauma that is more difficult to explain, the fear at offices and educational institutes of being made to feel that you are not as good as others
Access to law is restricted. Often she is physically unable to go to the police or court and there is also the fact that often she can’t explain that she has been abused. Where the abusers are known, she is discouraged from complaining,” says Ghai. One big problem is the lack of numbers. “We have very little segregated data relating to women with disabilities. So it is difficult to make out a case for them,” says Goyal.
Resignation to fate is thus often the only option left for many.
Disclaimer: The features often use the word disabled instead of differently abled since many feel the latter is just a euphemism that makes no qualitative difference to their lives