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Ethnographic Explorations

Renu Addlakha

By Nilika Mehrotra
Rawat Publications, Jaipur, 2013, pp. 304, Rs. 895.00


This work is a collection of essays written over the past decade exploring the issue of disability, culture and society in the Indian context. The author is a sociologist working in one of the leading universities in the country giving the area of social science research and writing on disability an academic respectability that is sorely lacking at the present conjuncture. Notwithstanding the academic moorings of the author, the style of the work is highly accessible to a lay audience, rendering it an invaluable contribution to both the domains of serious scholarship and public discourse on disability in the country. Discussions on the multiple social, political and economic factors contributing to the rise of this category are juxtaposed with ethnographic explorations of concrete experiences of disablement in urban and rual areas.   The first chapter delineates the multi-dimensional concept of disability both historically and in its contemporary manifestations, summarizing the different theoretical multidisciplinary perspectives on the theme. One of the more interesting issues raised by the author in this regard is the idea of a South Asian perspective on disability that both challenges and carries forward the ideas proposed by western scholars. ‘Disability, State policy and NGOs in India’ begins with a detailed discussion of disability legislation in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, as also the United Nation’s engagement with disability through the classificatory systems proposed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and more recently the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The latter half of the chapter focuses on disability prevalence, laws and policies in India, followed by a short discussion on NGO work in the disability sector with particular reference to the State of Haryana. In fact, the issue of NGO involvement is a central theme which examines the emergence of the disability rights movement in the country since the 1990s. It discusses the contested relationship between disability rights activism and the state.   The following four chapters are the most interesting because they engage with disability in the specific socio-economic and cultural context of rural Haryana showing the multiple meanings attributed to the concept and its experiences within local communities. Individual experiences of disablement, culturally embedded strategies of support and care and the ongoing engagement of the State in the sector are highlighted. The ethnographic and gender lens deployed in the analysis in these chapters shows not only how patriarchy both exacerbates ...

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