Society

How Revival aims to ‘un-hide’ stories of disability in India

Newly-launched ‘Revival’ aims to ‘unhide’ stories of disability, and the accompanying experiences of codependency, self-love and sexuality

The Revival team has just wrapped up a conference call. “It was more of a group therapy session for us,” says Anusha Misra, from Delhi. The four people on call, all with physical disabilities of varying nature, talked about how they had been coping with physical distancing.

Anusha, 22, is the founder of Revival Disability Magazine. Born in quarantine on April 10, Revival hopes to ‘unhide’ stories of disability: “Sort of like Humans of New York, but exclusively for people with disabilities,” says Anusha, with a light laugh.

Currently on Instagram, Revival (@revivaldisabilitymag) documents experiences of disability: from explaining trigger words, to codependency, acceptance, and self-love. The current physical distancing has thrown up a new set of challenges, in terms of mental health. And so the idea of Revival came to be. “I have always wanted to own my narrative,” she says. After the pandemic dies down or after she can organise photoshoots, she hopes to launch Revival as a digital magazine.

Edited excerpts from an interview.

Could you explain the importance of ‘unhiding’ disability, through accounts like Revival?

I have always been inhibited about my disability. It took me a lot of time to realise how important using the word, ‘disability’ is: it gives us a separate, new identity and community.

Just yesterday for example, on Instagram, I came across an account of a caregiver mother who put up a video of her child with cerebral palsy trying to stand up, and I felt it was so relatable! I had a stroke on both sides when I was 10, but it all happened so fast, my knees buckled, I couldn’t swallow and I had internal bleeding. Overnight, I went from being an able-bodied child to one with disabilities.

It (developing a disability) can be very confusing and chaotic for a child, so that is why one of Revival’s main goals is to be there especially for children with disabilities, to help them process and understand how they can cope. They will also eventually need to move away from their families, their primary caretakers, and need to be empowered for that.

Then there are logistical issues I want to bring to the fore, like accessible clothing for people with motor disabilities. Moreover, it is important that we talk about the mental health of people with disabilities, and the anxiety that can come with it. For instance, I have a fear of open spaces, I am afraid of falling and how I will be seen, with pity. We need to discuss these things.

How Revival aims to ‘un-hide’ stories of disability in India

You have talked about how tired you are of people with disability being called an inspiration every time they achieve something...

Oh, I hate those words like ‘bravery’ or ‘inspiration’. Some have called me ‘Jhansi ki rani’. Seriously? You are comparing me to a war hero?! We are diverse, and not always positive. Why is it our job to inspire people?

But given the state of our infrastructure, the challenge of even movement is greater for you. How do able-bodied people show their admiration, without sounding patronising?

As people with disabilities, we are told our entire lives that we are different. I remember in school, the board would use my disability as a PR stunt. So we can instinctively make out if there is a gaze of pity in the praise. Non-disabled people use us to make them feel grateful, that ‘at least’ they have it better in life. The core belief is that a person with a disability is weak. “If she can do it, so can you.”

How Revival aims to ‘un-hide’ stories of disability in India

Revival’s aim is also to talk about disability and sexuality…

People with disabilities are generally considered asexual, without desires. Even though I have dated able-bodied men, they always wanted to be my self-proclaimed caregivers. They would express concern when there wasn’t any need.

Sexuality is also about loving your own disabled, crippled body. An aspect of self-love is masturbation, which is not always easy for those of us with motor disabilities. We need accessible sex toys. I haven’t seen this talked about in the Indian context, where masturbation itself is a big taboo. Imagine a movie with a protagonist who has disabilities, exploring their sexuality… You don’t see that.

How would you like disability to be better represented in the media?

There are the micro-aggressions. As a stroke survivor, I have noticed that TV culture has this habit of making funny faces and saying, ‘Are you having a stroke?’. It is hurtful, as stroke survivors often have facial difficulties, crooked smiles, and have to go through so many hours of exercises to correct it.

The main point is getting to own our narratives. True representation comes when you have people with disabilities telling their own stories. That’s why I started Revival, so that we form a huge community, and nobody feels alone again.

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Printable version | Jul 5, 2020 6:12:17 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/revival-unhiding-stories-of-disability/article31785881.ece

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