Shruti Pushkarna: Has the media turned a deaf ear to disabled victims of rape?

05 Nov,2020

Shruti PushkarnaBy Shruti Pushkarna


The two rape cases from Hathras and Ballabgarh have occupied the news space this past month. And rightfully so. It’s shocking and truly disgusting. Not just the act itself, but also the fact that such incidents keep recurring despite the media glare, new laws, nationwide protests, et cetera. Sometimes it feels as if we’ve become immune to such acts of violence. Frankly, our nation is governed by a ‘chalta hai’ attitude for most things. What’s scary is that rape, murder, lynching, violence of all shape and form is gradually beginning to fall in that mindset as well.


I don’t intend to debate on the rape rate or the mindset behind it or how much our society has accepted it as part of everyday reality. I’m not even going to argue with the various stances concerning how women should dress, where they should go, do we need to re-educate our boys or their mothers perhaps. Instead I want to cite a few cases where the rape victims were disabled.


In a country where our political leaders and other influential groups propagate ‘men will be men’ attitude, women remain perennial victims to a skewed sense of patriarchy. To top that, a physical or mental impairment, is doubly disabling for women. Between the months of April and October, three rape incidents were reported from Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Madhya Pradesh.


The environment was never safe but the pandemic has added to the woes of women with disabilities, as they are unable to find easy access to any kind of support. Stranded away from family, friends and community, they face myriad challenges on a daily basis vis-à-vis acquiring food material, traveling for work, getting medical aid in case of emergency, or any other household help. Personal safety has become a growing concern.


However, the news media in these three cases raised no hue and cry for the victims who were visually impaired. One wonders why. Was their tragedy lesser than that of a sighted woman? Or is it because they didn’t have the appropriate tags of  #Dalit or #Muslim to make for eyeballs especially in the TRP-driven television news market?


True that disability issues don’t find much coverage in the media because they are perceived to be not ‘mainstream’ enough. But rape is a crime that affects the majority. Then why must the media discriminate when it comes to raising a voice against the heinous act itself? Like I said, the offence doesn’t become any less atrocious if the casualty is not able-bodied. In fact, quite the contrary.


Women constitute 41 per cent of the total disabled population in India. According to a news report from September 2019, the United Nations committee of independent experts on the rights of persons with disabilities emphasised on the need for India to have a separate category of data on violence against disabled women and girls. Very often, ableist women rights’ movements overlook this group because they are labeled as asexual. Even disability advocacy groups rarely address the sexual needs or exploits of such women. In short, crimes against them are invisible to the political leadership and law enforcement agencies.


When it comes to yelling matches on the ‘idiot box’ every night, the disabled women are out of sight there too. They don’t get invited to debates on issues concerning women, their views disregarded by the ableist world. Do you recall any disabled perspectives during the recent outrage against Nikita Tomar’s rape or the (in)famous #MeToo movement? Probably not.


As I write this piece, Donald Trump and Joe Biden are neck to neck in the race for US President. God forbid if Trump wins again, we’ll have one of the most powerful countries in the world led by someone who thinks very little of women or persons with disabilities. Is this a reflection on what the society in general thinks of them as well? One can only hope and appeal to the goodness in humanity.


Shruti Pushkarna heads operations of the New Delhi-based Score Foundation where she works as Director-Programmes & Communications. She is a former journalist (part of the founding team of MxMIndia) who has moved full-time to the social sector. Shruti writes for MxMIndia every other Thursday. Her views here are personal. She can be reached via Twitter at @shrutipushkarna



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