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South Asia and Disability Studies

Redefining Boundaries and Extending Horizons


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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Chapter 1: South Asia and Disability Studies: Time for a Conversation


The contribution of disability studies is invaluable. Originating from grassroots movements, it has precipitated a discourse that has crossed disciplinary boundaries and challenged dominant orthodoxies. It has revolutionized the way we think about disability and questioned the assumptions that underlie traditional models of understanding disability. However, in the current context of globalization and international development, it also raises questions such as: Is this model universal? How does it respond to the disability experience in a global context? To what extent are the analytical lenses it offers applicable to other social, cultural, and economic contexts, and specifically the countries that constitute South Asia (India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh)? By examining these questions, we hope that this book provides the impetus for a conversation between disability studies and South Asia that can expand, enrich, and invigorate existing theoretical frameworks or even contribute new frameworks of understanding in this area. We believe that the time has come for such a conversation. A rich body of scholarship that provides a complex view of disability in South Asia has developed in recent years. Our purpose in this book is to bring some of this scholarship to the center of the discourse.

This book presents glimpses of the disability experience within a defined region—South Asia—covering an area that is neither too broad (such as international perspectives on disability) nor too specific (such as an individual country). In doing so, it tries to delineate new boundaries and navigate between the broad...

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