In “Guru”, the character played by Madhavan falls in love with a bright, young woman, who's in a wheelchair. But reality is different — marriage eludes most alternatively-abled women. And, it becomes painful, if marriage ranks high in such a woman's priority.
The latest World Health Organisation's statistics says that in India less than five per cent of alternatively-abled women get married, while over 50 per cent of alternatively-abled men get married. This data tells the story only too well, and the reasons for such a condition are aplenty. It begins, strangely enough, with the girls' parents themselves. Parents consider it their duty to get daughters married off, but do not explore marriage for their alternatively-abled daughters.
Still a little one
“They think, ‘Will my daughter be able to manage household work, will she be taken care of in her married home?' says Aruna Devi, activist and PRO, Tamil Nadu Handicapped Federation (TNHF). “These parents assume they can take care of their challenged daughter better. They also fall into the trap of forever regarding their disabled daughters as little ones, never understanding that their little daughter has grown up to be a woman.”
Says clinical psychiatrist Chitra Kumar: “If parents encourage safe socialisation and instill in these girls self- worthiness, these girls would have more effective social skills, and attract better relationships.”
However, the biggest hurdle is attitude. Society expects the woman to be perfect, not the man. This instills a bias in men against marrying alternatively-abled women. There is also this misplaced assumption that alternatively-abled woman are ‘dependent', and that they cannot have or raise children. This is far from the truth. Alternatively-abled women with supporting families do pretty well in life. Aruna is an example. “We can handle most things in life,” she says. If parents, society and the Government work towards making alternatively-abled women economically independent, then their status in society automatically improves and this improves their chances of finding a good life partner, Aruna feels.
It is all in the mind, says P. Thiruvengadam (‘Venkatesh' to his family), who is happily married to T. Usha, a visually-challenged violinist, who has carved out economic independence through her violin classes. Theirs was a love marriage that went ahead despite objections. “After seeing our happy marriage, my parents came to live with us, and are now very fond of Usha,” Venkatesh says. The couple have two children, both without disability. “Usha does most of the housework and all the cooking, though I do not allow her to fry. I help a little, and so do the kids now,” he adds. “There is no problem at all. All that is required is understanding and shedding of the ego,” he says.
A successful life
“I have seen many such women deserted and tortured by their husbands for dowry, but I have been lucky. My husband, though fully able, doesn't look down on my disability. He has been a pillar of strength for me,” says M. Lalithambigai.
Her husband K. Manivannan too had defied society in marrying her; now, they have two perfectly healthy children. Lalithambigai's orthopedic challenge has not stopped her from being a successful tailor. Besides this, the couple also work for the needs of the alternatively-abled through the society they have formed — Bharathi Handicapped Association.
“Why are men unable to accept disability in women when women are ready to accept disability in men?” rues Thangamalar, an orthopaedically-challenged woman, who has chosen to marry M. Velayudan, a visually-challenged person, through TNHF. If an alternatively-abled man marries a woman with a different kind of physical challenge, then they can complement each other's needs and there will be no problem, she points out. Their one-year-old baby girl Shruthilaya adds to their happy marriage.
Apparently, the physical impairment by itself is not so much a problem. It is social and familial attitudes that take the joy out of the lives of alternatively-abled women. Says Aruna: “We all have inabilities in varying degrees. That doesn't mean that we are unworthy or that we cannot handle life.”