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TARSHI’s Corner: Working Paper: Sexuality and Disability in the Indian Context, 2018

TARSHI released the working paper Sexuality and Disability in the Indian Context, 2018 on March 28, 2018. It is an update of the 2010 working paper on the same theme, and re-visits some of the information presented and includes additional findings.

When TARSHI released the first version of the working paper in 2010, stigma, myths, mistaken assumptions, social and cultural stereotypes and lack of knowledge around disability and around sexuality were significant barriers in the effort to build a public discourse on this subject.

While these barriers still exist, over the years, there have been significant, positive changes: new laws and legal provisions, changing political intent and influence, and milestones and new approaches.  Through this paper, TARSHI has attempted to gather this new information and present new efforts, voices and spaces, and assess their implications. There are increased cross-sector conversations and advocacy on themes such as gender based discrimination and violence, child rights, comprehensive sexuality education, mental health and psycho-social disability, sanitation, health and hygiene, and issues of accessibility across physical and virtual spaces. New concepts and perspectives that actively challenge those that prevailed earlier are emerging.

Find the working paper Sexuality and Disability in the Indian Context, 2018 here:

Here is what two of our key contributors have to say about the need for a paper that examines the intersections between disability and sexuality in today’s context.

Janet Price, feminist, disability rights campaigner who works on disability, sexuality and social justice in India and the UK

“Coming a decade after the UN Convention on Rights for Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which emphasised disabled women’s and girls’ rights, there is ongoing pressure for the strengthening of legislation related to disability, as has been happening over recent years, but also of seeing its implementation. The UNCRPD has opened a space for disabled women to meet together internationally, campaigning with women from other countries to compare concerns and share strategies, thus building a wide global programme that calls for rights for Women with Disabilities. From this, women and persons with disabilities in India can draw strength for extending their calls for rights and justice from the national and state capitals through to the smallest towns and villages in remote rural areas. Localised resources such as this TARSHI publication, which speak to the specificities of context and to potential strategies that can be used within India, offer a marked support to small and isolated disability rights organisations who are searching for strategies in response to their local concerns. The paper also points to key resource figures and groups who can be called upon as support to act, to report upon and spread the message further.

Developed from a ground-breaking first edition, this second edition has deepened its reach into the legal context in India of disability law regarding sexuality, and into neglected fields such as the experiences, rights and strategic demands for justice that are coming from groups representing people with psychosocial, intellectual and developmental disabilities. This work has highlighted the need to offer stronger support to those with severe disabilities with major access requirements. Other campaigning demands such as those being made by women and girls living with sensory impairments, groups of blind and deaf women (and men), are shown to be exploring exciting new routes towards relationships and knowledge about sexuality and families.

But, in a newly developing field, what is also inevitably revealed are the major gaps that still exist both in research and in campaigning around disability and sexuality. Whilst there are growing numbers of groups and/or resources that address the requirements or struggles of heterosexual disabled people in India, TARSHI, despite its many years of contact with the LGBTQ community through its sexuality support work, could hardly find individuals identifying as queer, trans or otherwise gender non-conforming and disabled. And although queer groups appear to demonstrate a growing awareness of the sexual rights of disabled people, they have proved slow at developing approaches which have the necessary reach and sensitivity to establish contact with and offer ongoing support to queer disabled people.”

Dr. Lakshmi Ravikanth, The Banyan

“Persons with disabilities experience a lack of entitlements. Given this, acknowledgment and acceptance of one’s sexuality in its wider context and inclusive of its nuances rarely surfaces. A paper such as this delineates sexuality within a disability framework. It attempts to systematically build and present a balanced, real view version of issues prevalent, and enhance comprehension of attitudes, prejudices and discrimination.

This paper addresses power dynamics within social structures and systems and the hypocritical nature of human beings towards establishing a sensitive and empathic approach towards sexuality and disability. It focuses on the rights of people with disabilities, who are ignored and de-humanised.

We have a very young population that, even in literate societies, often grows up with warped ideas of sexuality and disability. This paper could inform and address doubts of young minds, and help in reducing apathy and prejudice towards persons with disabilities and their natural inclinations vis-à-vis their sexuality. It has the potential to open up dialogue on the needs and aspirations of persons with disability related to their sexuality.

Finally, this paper appreciates individual differences in choices that prevail among people, and allows for room for all. It highlights the importance of custodians of care to innovate and offer pragmatic solutions to problems arising out of the nature of the issues related to disability and sexuality.”