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Disability emerges from its social seclusion

Dec 07, 2012

Happily Ever After is a Mumbai-based initiative organised by non-disabled people that has been highly successful even in its nascent stages. It provides a platform for disabled people and their friends and family to meet and interact.

There are slow but sure changes in attitudes around disability and relationships. Indian matrimonial portal Shaadi.com has an option to disclose your impairment, and Happily Ever After provides a platform for disabled people to meet and interact.

The shaadi-drive is everywhere. We live in a society constructed around the framework of marriage, and the Big Indian Wedding is on everyone’s mind. And even for those not yet looking to get shaadi-shuda, Bollywood’s grand narratives and romances still script our desires for friendship, for relationships, and for love. Within the context of a country and culture that places a high premium on men, the focus of marriage is not so much on the ideal man – since practically all men are considered to be ideal – but on the ideal woman.

The fair, beautiful, educated-but-not-too-talkative, multi-cuisine cook, future mother-of-his-children kind of woman. Not too dark. Not too independent. Not too assertive. But in the yeas and nays of who does and does not fit the bill of ‘ideal’, one category of women remains so far down the ‘nay’ route it doesn’t even feature in the listings: women with disabilities. While this prejudice does very much exist for their male counterparts too, the percentage of men with disabilities who find both long-term and short-term partners is far higher than the numbers for women. Influenced by beauty standards and their presumed inabilities to satisfy the expectations of married women – in terms of household ‘duties’, the couple’s sex life and having children – the ways in which women with disabilities navigate desire and relationships is highly complicated, each step of the way.

Adolescence is a time fraught with anxiety, hormonal changes, and the continuous fear of humiliation and shame. Young people begin to navigate inter-personal relationships on their own terms, and friendships formed between teenagers can be intimate and reassuring, but also cause for distress and worry. As classmates who unquestioningly played with one another previously now branch off into groups and cliques, the ability to socialise and interact with others defines these formative years.

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