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South Asia and Disability Studies

Redefining Boundaries and Extending Horizons


Edited By Shridevi Rao and Maya Kalyanpur

Incorporating scholarship that addresses the social, economic, cultural, and historical facets of the experience of disability in South Asia, this book presents the reader with a comprehensive, cogent, and nuanced view of the constructions of disability in this region. In doing so, it focuses on the lived experiences of people with disabilities and their families, analyzing such disabling barriers as poverty, caste, and other inequities that limit their access to education, employment, equity, and empowerment. It addresses the interpretations of disability within different South Asian contexts including policy, family, educational systems, films, and literary narratives. Situated in an interdisciplinary perspective that spans areas such as cultural studies, law, disability studies in education, sociology, and historiography, South Asia and Disability Studies presents a rich and complex understanding of the disability experience in South Asia. The organization of topics parallels the discourse in areas within disability studies such as identity construction, language, historical constructions of disability, and cultural representations of disability.
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We are both South Asian women with an interest in the area of culture and disability in general and disability within the Indian context in particular that has extended over decades. Our interest in this area began with our experiences as teachers of children with moderate and severe disabilities in India in the early 1980s and has continued as researchers through the years. As teachers, we challenged the circumscribed curriculum and the low expectations for children with disabilities that were reflected in instructional approaches and the labels assigned to the children. We struggled against perceptions that we were teaching pagal (crazy) or langda (lame) children, even as the government introduced the official, virtually unknown and, therefore interestingly, neutral term of vikhlang for disability. We were intrigued by the assumption that segregated settings were somehow considered to be the inevitable place for many students with significant disabilities despite the increasing emphasis on inclusion reflected in educational policy. Over the years, we were struck by how, in the absence of services, many children who, in the 1980s, were absorbed by the educational system, now are labeled “mentally retarded,” “dyslexic,” or “autistic” and often receive services in separate settings. In the absence of indigenous descriptors, these labels were imported directly from English in the insouciant assumption that their meanings would transfer unconditionally. So began our introduction to the language of disability, the arbitrariness of the labeling process, and the “othering” that resulted from the development of services intended to promote inclusion.

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