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Twice Disabled?

Upali Chakravarti

Edited by Asha Hans & Annie Patri
Sage Publications, Delhi, 2003, pp. 282, Rs. 330.00


The issue of disability as a field of academic study as well as a ground for activism is gaining prominence not only the world over but in India too. The recognition of disability as a rights issue in India emerged as significant when the Persons With Disabilities Act was passed in 1995. Another instance was when the disabled demanded that they be included in the Census 2001. These two events required tremendous pressure and vociferous lobbying by the disabled themselves, parents of the disabled and some rehabilitation professionals, to assert the fact that the disabled are people and have rights too.   The trajectory of how the disabled people are viewed the world over has been similar. It is when the state, considered the guardian of rights and the provider of services, fails its responsibility, that civil society and individuals at their level take up various issues and form movements. However, often movements are not able to satisfy or include the subsections within the movement, leading to further divisions in the movement. One such group is that of disabled women. It is within this wider context that the book under review is located. The collection of articles in the book have emerged from a conference on gender disparity and disability, organized by the Shanta Memorial Rehabilitation Centre, Bhubaneshwar in 1999. The collection includes 13 writings by women—both disability activists and scholars.   The book has been divided into 4 sections. The first section deals with Images and Values associated with the disabled. This is a very interesting and powerful section, which brings across succinctly the fact that disability is not just about health and pathology but is socially constructed. The article by Michelle La Fontaine is about the ideology of ‘perfection’ legitimized by the social inclination to connect perfection with normality and in particular with beauty in the case of women. The article comprehensively traces how medical science had constructed mathematical methods to quantify human variance. In a political economy context the study of genetics has created the notion that perfection is indeed possible using logical positivist methods as in the Human Genome Project. Medical science has, in the garb of betterment of human kind, in fact reinforced the paradigm that extreme forms of human diversity are undesirable by offering the global space an opportunity to rid itself of ‘anarchic bodies’.   The next two articles are interesting and deal with the powerful role of the media ...

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