Assignment elicits about the marginalized place in society, culture, economics and politics of any Physical impairment

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Physical impairment and deformity evokes a marginalized place in society, culture, economics and politics.It often gives people a minority status that fundamentally affects their ability to lead a normal lifestyle they otherwise might have wished to lead.The Disabled People’s Movement has revolutionized global understandings of disability.The personal experiences of disabled persons are taken into consideration, and disability is identified as a social problem rather than a personal tragedy. Consequently, Disability studies emerged as a critical response to address these two cultural extremes;personal and political.

Literatures concerning on the issue of disability, mostly ignore the differences between man and woman and the different gendered problems faced by them. Most studies emphasize and focus on those with disability and compare them with those who are the so-called “normal”.This is partly because of the bias or stigma attached to the disabled persons as being ‘Deviant’ or ‘Abnormal’.

Recent studies although now have acknowledged the impact that gender have on disability.Gender is mostly confused with sex that has a close resemblance. Keeping aside all the divergences in opinions,ideas and definitions,sex is commonly understood as relating with biological and physiological make-up of body.Gender, on the other hand is a cultural construct.The correlation between two genders,functioning in the level of society bears a relationship of power,control and subordination.Men supposes a more powerful and dominant role,while the women is consigned to a more passive and feeble role.This patriarchal hegemony conventionally produces certain images and traits that tend to characterize the elements of ‘masculinity’ and ‘feminity’. These outline role expectations and forms of behavior and define the official way of performing gender.

Given the existing scenario in India,where the gender ratio is increasingly declining due to the ongoing practice of female infanticide and foeticide,the life as a disabled woman is certainly not a very easy proposition.Women with disability are perhaps the most vulnerable group in our society; also the most secluded and excluded one.Apart from experiencing the usual discrimination against the females, they are additionally discriminated because of their disability. Moreover hostility and negative mind-set on the part of society makes their life more wretched than the disability itself.

Emphasis here is on the women,as a category,experiencing multiple disablements,in a patriarchal society that inclines towards the injurious practice of son-preference making disabled women and girls one of the most marginalized group in society.Society discriminates against the girl child and women and more so if she is disabled and thus holds them down to subordinate statuses in the family.

Disabled People’s efforts have made possible disability legislation, inclusion in census, although the concerns of women have been categorically ignored. Masculine bias and patriarchy have choked the voices of this minority, and merely overlooked the factors such as sexuality, family and traditional role of women.


People with disabilities is one of the most neglected groups that continue to face problems related to access to opportunities,negative attitudes,humiliation and environmental barriers,which are problems that all disabled persons face.But these barriers are coupled with some of the distinctive disadvantages that women with disabilities face in conservative societies like ours prevented them from taking their just places and getting empowered.

Women with Disability have been categorically neglected by the mainstream organized disability rights movements and also by women’s movement.Even in the Feminist research, in spite of its increasingly expanding boundary,we find little concern to this social group of disabled women.

Thus,a study with particular attention to this marginalized group is necessary. Apart from the similar problems faced by disabled people, gender is a determinant issue in India when understanding double or triple disadvantage faced by disabled women.An inclusion of the entire disabled group will give a fragmented and partial view of the specific woes and troubles faced by those women with physical and mental impairments who are seen through gendered lenses. In our society the practice of gender inequality has become a convention; the relationship between the two sexes operate hierarchy privileging men.Disabled men have succeeded to some extent in making their voice heard;a special initiative is required to make sure that disabled women are also heard.A gendered analysis of disability unmasks how the ensemble network of patriarchy and politics of power relation transforms the mere biological differences into a complex social and cultural difference in keeping the disabled women disempowered.


Although research in this area is relatively new, the writings of the past decade have provided research-based information about the socio-economic and psychological circumstances of women with disabilities and offered theoretical framework to understand and interpret their lives and experiences.

Disability affects all of us.The notion of Temporarily Able Bodied(TAB) recognizes that there are chances of disability for many people at some point of their age irrespective of any class or nation.

Firstly to talk about disability we must understand the notion of ‘Ability’, the absolute opposite to the concept of ‘Disability’. Encyclopedia of Disability and Rehabilitation describes ‘Ability’ as an indicator “of a person’s productive potential, “ability” refers to the individual’s capacity both to learn new skills and behaviors and to perform previously learned skills or behavior. Ability is an important concept beyond the evaluation and counseling functions in rehabilitation.”(Encyclopedia of Disability and Rehabilitation,1995:p.1)


To acknowledge the role of social, cultural factors that disable people; the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation(UPIAS),in Britain, the definitions of ‘Impairment’ and ‘Disability’ were devised that were later adapted by the Disabled People’s International(DPI) as following:

IMPAIRMENT: is the functional limitation within the individual caused by physical, mental or sensory impairment.

DISABILITY: is the loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in the normal life of the community on an equal level with others due to physical and social barriers.

Thus ‘Impairment’ is defined within the medical context in terms of the biological, psychological,cognitive and sensory differences;whereas; “Disability’ is a kind of negative social reaction to those differences. Disability is understood as an act of exclusion: people are disabled by contemporary society.”(Goodley,2011:p.8-9)

‘Handicap’ is not coterminous with disability but refers to the construction of various obstacles formed by social and institutional structure.A social barrier approach challenges the medical or individual model of disability,revealing systematic social construction of hurdles that disable people with impairment/s.This perspective uncovers the deep-seated prejudices and stereotyping that engenders from socio-cultural arrangement of society combines with mass media to reinforce dull and negative image of disability.Above all the discriminatory nature of law in the name of gender justice perpetuated disability as ‘differentness’.(Neath,1997:p.196;Encyclopedia of Disability and Rehabilitation,1995)

Ghai employs the concept of ‘other’;from Albert Memmi’s “The Colonizer and the Colonized” in her discussion of the so-called ‘normal body’. She said that the concept of the devalued ‘other’ is a necessary precondition for the concept of the able-bodied rational subject. She uses the term to signify a condition that does not fit into the category of normal and accepted, and deviate from the norms and ideology of a given society. “Constituted as being profoundly ‘other’ disability symbolically represents lack, tragic loss, dependency and abnormality.” (Ghai;2003,p.15)

Susan Lonsdale in her book “Women and Disability: The Experience of Physical Disability Among Women” analyzes the socio-political context and the role of gender that plays a significant role in the process of becoming disabled. She opined that in an oppressive situation much of the torture is not overtly hostile,but a socio-psychological discrimination that lead to substantial denial for those who experience it.(Lonsdale,1990:p.1-2)


Due to gender bias women are generally discriminated;but disabled women face compound discrimination by being both women and disabled.Encyclopedia of Disability lists some specific troubles of differently-abled women in the developing world in relation to gender.Among these some are: 

? Poverty affects women more.

? Women are more vulnerable to domestic violence and sexually abused women are deprived of any social support.

? Disabled women have less access to education than women in general.(Encyclopedia of Disability,Vol.2,2006:p.176)

Mobility International USA, an organization of the North, working for the cause of disabled women lists several problems unique to women. These include: “marriage, abandonment due to disability, inaccessibility to shelters and rape centres, high mortality rates, and complete invisibility and isolation.”(Hans,Patri,2003:p.26)

Encyclopedia of Disability and Rehabilitation has pointed to a relative decrease in status of women with disabilities compared with men with disabilities.Some examples:

? Disabled women are poorer and have lower incomes than disabled men.

? In contrast to nondisabled women,disabled women are regarded as “asexual” but they are at greater risk of sexual abuses. 

? Women with disabilities receive less education than do either nondisabled women or men with disabilities.

? Women with disabilities have less access to ‘rehabilitation’ services than do men with disabilities.(Encyclopedia of Disability,Vol.2,2006:p.763)

One can picture the retort to the birth of a disabled girl child in our society. The medical,nutritional,educational or the emotional,sexual and recreational needs of a disabled daughter are the very last in the concern of family members.Being a woman,with a physical deformity and belonging to a poor family and,is a triple disadvantage that she has to endure.(For (more info see:http://www.lcd-enar.org/files/u1/Rao_equity_to_women_with_disabilities_in_india.pdf)

The domestic violence against disabled women have received little concern, although in terms of magnitude it is the most substantial violence inflicted upon them and is an extreme manifestation of power relation. Often the perpetrators are their family members,care-providers and intimate partners that prove their susceptibility of being abused.Possessive behavior,sexual proprietariness,alcoholism is closely connected to violence.Severe violence like battering, punching,enforced sterilization,sabotaging necessary equipments tell-upon their personal and mental health and self-esteem.Distressed women who are and ill-treated have no one to approach to,and mental and bodily restrictions restrain their power to raise objection.(Ballan and Freyer,2012:p.1084;Curry2009:p.1002-3)

Family is the private space which provides physical care,affection emotional support.However in the case of disabled women domestic violence take place within the home where they have no weapon to protect themselves.Here they are kept isolated and segregated from the outside world, thus governmental strategies and social movements easily overlook or avoid them.(Hans, Patri, 2003; p.27-28)

In India, where marriage alliances are mostly arranged by the parents, the conditions of disabled women are more troublesome.Disabled women mostly remain single, or they get divorced or separated. They rarely have children, significant relationship and a happy family.


“From a very young age, in general, gender is constructed through appearance.Beauty seems a gender-related category.”For a woman beauty has become a defining feature, a necessary precondition for her being, but for a man it becomes inconsequential.Women are required to conform to an image, based on certain physical,sexual,behavioral stereotypes.This premium is linked to find a suitable partner for marriage.Media convey these ideal type images and simultaneously portrays, constructs and differentiates images of ‘beautiful’ or ‘ugly’. In the Feminist Disability Studies gives emphasis on body image and critically analyzes the impact of disability in abnormalizing the ‘feminine’. Cultural Model Approach questions and exposes the myth of the ‘disabled/abnormal body’ and its necessary opposite construct of ‘the able/normal body’.(Hans, Patri,2003;p.18).

The centrality of body image tends to negatively define the self-image of a physically disabled woman and contributes to their low self-esteem.This is a stressful experience, as she compares her with these standards and perceives her ‘differentness’.She is denied from all the traditional roles like a good wife,a good mother which affect her self-perception and interpersonal relationships.Many women conceive their self-image with their physical appearance or body image that stems from their ontological position in patriarchal society that closely links a woman’s personality with her body.Sex-role socialization inculcates within them certain gendered-expectations.She,at a very early stage of her life,learns to be mindful about her outer appearance.For the physically challenged women the ideal becomes unachievable; as it entails certain basic features of normal body-function.However the consequence disability has on one’s internal self-perception is much more compound than purely being negative.(Lonsdale,1990:p.2-6)


The year 1981 was very significant being the International Year for Disabled Persons (IYDP). It was also in this year, in India that the education of the disabled was regarded to be as a human resource development.

The Indian Disability Laws for the Rights of persons with Disability

The Govt. of India has enacted 3 legislations for persons with Disabilities:

1 Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full    Participation) Act,1995, which provides for education, employment, creation of a barrier free environment, social security, etc.

2 National Trust for Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disability Act,1999 has provisions for legal guardianship and creation of an enabling environment that will allow as much independent living as is possible.

3 Rehabilitation Council of India Act,1992 deals with the development of manpower for provision of rehabilitation services.

An article published on 28th January 2013,Hindustan Times, New Delhi, stated that the government will soon pass a new law to protect rights of differently abled persons and five% proviso in government jobs.For the first time it makes private sector liable to provide public services in disabled friendly manner. It also says that special training for disabled persons should be provided in specialized fields such as broadcasting and sports.(For more see: http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/NewDelhi/New-disability-law-5-quota-in-govt-jobs/Article1-1003092.aspx)

National Policy for Persons with Disabilities, 2006

The National Policy for Persons with Disabilities (Policy) formulated by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in 2006 lays down the commitment of the Government in providing disabled persons, access to education and to a barrier-free environment for their development. The Policy recognizes that education is the most effective vehicle of social and economic empowerment



On February 19, a Spice Jet pilot forced Jeeja Ghosh, a 40 plus woman with cerebral palsy off the aircraft as he conceived her as ‘abnormal’. She is the head of advocacy and disability studies at Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy (IICP).She was unable to travel to Goa where she was supposed to attend a seminar after the pilot forced her to deplane since she was not being accompanied by anyone. Though Ghosh tried to convince the authorities that she is quite a regular flyer and has travelled all over the world alone.She even rang up her institute and its members confirmed this,but the crew and the pilot were harsh in their verdict.She been dishonored before a plane full of people and told to disembark even after she had got her boarding pass. This kind of emotional harassment down of one’s dignity is a contemptible disobedience of human rights.The values of equity,consensus,social justice and moral code are embedded in a larger framework of value systems and in India they stay behind only in theoretical discourse and legislature. 


On 4th of March a 25-year-old mentally and physically disabled woman was sexually assaulted by a 55-year-old neighbor at her home in Behala. The woman confided this to her sister-in-law the next day and her family members lodged a complaint at Behala Police Station on the next morning. But the accused, named Bikash Ghosh had fled by the time the cops reached.According to the complaint, the victim was alone at home when assaulter entered the house and committed the crime.The victim was mentally and physically challenged.She underwent a medical examination at a state-run hospital but police are doubtful whether the report will yield much since almost two days had lapsed since the alleged crime. This case is reported on a daily newspaper on 7th 0f March, 2013.Similar cases become the daily news, but the perpetrators are seldom arrested and the victimization, stigmatization, and disregard toward these marginal women don’t change.


In this paper I set out to analyze the relevant literature on women and disability and give an overall interpretation on –

1. How the civil society responses to a disabled woman and how it shapes their conception of self.

2. How does the family react to a disabled woman.


As the name suggests, Content Analysis is used by sociologists and other social scientists to investigate the content of media. It is used to explore the content of various media like books, magazines, TV, film etc.; in order to discover how particular issues are presented. At its most basic, content analysis is a statistical exercise that entails categorizing some aspect or quality of people’s behavior. In this way, content analysis helps us to build-up a picture of the patterns of behavior that underlie (and are usually hidden from view) the social interaction. Bernard Berelson defined Content Analysis as “a research technique for the objective, systematic, and quantitative description of manifest content of communications.” From this definition it becomes clear that content has a meaning that is manifest as well as latent. At the interpretative stage, latent meanings in the data may also be analyzed.Holsti (1969) offers a broad definition of content analysis as, “any technique for making inferences by objectively and systematically identifying specified characteristics of messages.”

Content analysis is a research tool focused on the actual content and internal features of media.  It is used to determine the presence of certain words, concepts, themes, phrases, characters, or sentences within texts or sets of texts and to quantify this presence in an objective manner. Texts can be defined roughly as books, book-chapters, essays, interviews, discussions, newspaper headlines and articles, historical documents, or really any episode of communicative language. In content analysis, choice of the topic must be intimately synchronized with the selection of the content. It is desirable that the researcher should begin with a specific research question and select a body of material that will try sort out the question. Content Analysis can indicate pertinent features such as the intentions, biases, prejudices, and oversights of authors, publishers, as well as all other persons responsible for the content of materials. It enables researchers to sift through large volumes of data with relative ease and in a systematic fashion. It can be a useful technique for allowing us to discover and describe the focus of individual, group, institutional, or social attention.

? Disadvantages of Content Analysis

Having pointed out various advantages of content analysis;it is necessary to point out certain shortcomings.

? Can be extremely time consuming.

? Is subject to increased error, particularly when relational analysis is used to attain a higher level of interpretation.

? It describes, rather than explains people’s behavior.

? It is inherently reductive, particularly when dealing with complex texts.

? Often disregards the context that produced the text, as well as the state of things after the text is produced.

? Can be difficult to automate or computerize.


? Response of civil society and the effect on self-perception

Available literature demonstrates that the status of disabled women is affected by the circumstances and the nature of the given society.Particularly in india,because of patriarchal stand women put up with usual discrimination.The situation worsens if she is disabled.Here I have attempted to delineate the ways in which social arrangements in India regulate to discriminate against disabled girls and women.

? Society demarcates sharply between the supposed ‘able-bodied’ or normal people and the ‘disabled’ or ‘deviant group’.It do not acknowledges the difference between ‘impairment’ and ‘disability and fails to realize the operation of socio-cultural edifice in maintaining disabilitating environment for the impaired body.

? The traditional patriarchal base of our society operate to hold women down to inferior social gradation.Thus the disabled women suffer double disadvantage both for being a woman and having a disability.

? Isolation and confinement based on cultural traditions and prejudices and gender-biased attitudes affect women more than men.Hence she is marginalized and excluded from both representation and women’s movement.

? Society denies all the opportunities for enlightenment to the disabled women.She suffers from malnutrition,lack of support services,education that hinders her independent living and creates passive dependency on others.

? As is evident in the case of Jeeja Ghosh,disabled woman is often barred from public transport and expelled from various social assemblies.

? Media,the most significant agent of socialization,plays an active role in portraying disabled women as weak,fragile,ugly,and unproductive.These negative views of a disabled woman’s image is readily reproduced as popular attributions and sterotypes.Thus,society and the community view these women as a burden.

All these negative response have its detriments on disabled woman’s self-perception.I have found three factors that proves to have negative consequence in this situation.

? Because of their invisibility and entrapment within the four walls they are at risk of physical and emotional abuse.Verbal accusation on the part of the family members or the community often make them feel neglected and unwanted that adversely affect their self-perception.

? Secondly,the differently abled women suffer from ‘rolelessness’.The roles that are available to them are limited and the institutional means for achieving them are also absent.Traditional roles of homemaker,mother or lover are seen as unappropriate for these women,even if they are able to perform these roles at ease.They thus rarely have intimate relationships and are often oppressed in abusive relations.All these tend to define negatively their sel-image.

? Third and the most significant are the roles of those behavioral norms and stereotypical conceptions of beauty or physical appearance,that is predominant and is more highlighted by the popular media imagery,in defining the impaired body as unattractive and asexual.Hence disabled women are seen as incapable of reproduction and nurturance.These negativity and false myths are inculcated within their minds through gendered and sex-role socialization that build-up a low self-esteem in themselves.They often tend to view or judge their identity by outer appearance and engage in constant comparison with these ideals.Thus apprehension of their ‘differentness’ or the deviance from the so-called ‘normal’ life-style that constitute their internal make-up poorly shape their self-formation and sense of worth.However,Lonsdale opined that this feeling is always not negative.Many women accomplish a lot in their lives and have a high self-esteem in spite of their disability.

? Family’s response to a disabled woman

Family is one of the most significant social institutions that has its major function in socialization,upbringing,nurturance,care and is regarded as a secured shelter.However for disabled girls all these rarely become a reality. Negative Family response include;

? Regarding the disabled girl child as unproductive and a burden to her parents.

? She is often accused for her disability.

? School education is considered as luxury for the disabled girl.

? As the traditional roles are not regarded appropriate for her,marriage,motherhood and family is denied to her.

? Inability to marry off their daughter aggravates the situation especially in rural area.

? Even if a marriage partner is found it accompanies high dowry demand.

? She thus remains single,divorced and lead a solitary life.

? Negligence and lack of affection from her family makes her feel unwanted and useless.

? Apart from all these the most important as I have found is that,the most severe form of violence against the disabled women occur within the domestic arena.Often these women are victims of extreme form of physical,sexual and emotional exploitation.Even when they are considered ‘asexual’ the most acute sexual assault are inflicted upon them by their intimate partners within the family.Battering,withholding essential equipments,sexual abuse,verbal accusation,and enforced sterilization are the most common form of violence as the available literature indicates.Another important facet is that this domain confines disabled women within the home front that lead to social obscurity and anonymity.


Millions of disabled women in India lead a life of extreme subservience under a male centric hegemony and reveals a sustained pattern ofdifference between men and women.The double jeopardy generate powerful detrimental forces that affect their lives and create insurmountable barriers.There are a few women with disabilities who have overcome prejudices and negative social attitudes to become role-models for others.

Historically Women with disabilities have been neglected by those concerned with issues of disability as well as the feminist movement.Only in the very recent time,in the last decade sincere attempts have been made to identify and understand the varying forces shaping their lives.These attempts have mainly focused on understanding how being a female and having a disability act together and how women with disabilities view their experiences and how this understanding of their self and surroundings shape their perception of the larger society and their own self-esteem.This newly emerging scholarship is however,limited and much remains to be learned about women with disabilities. At the same time this scholarship provides the foundation and the pledge for future advances.Women with disabilities are one of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in today's society.We need to develop a better understanding of their lives in order to remove the obstacles that still remain in their way to equality.

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