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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 12: Body, Behavior, Boundaries, and Belonging: Disability in Contemporary Bollywood Films


The camera follows Rizvan Khan as he enters an airport with a heavy backpack strapped on his back. The camera rests on his slightly stooped figure and his stiff gait. As he enters the immigration area, the camera zooms on his lips as they furiously recite a prayer and his hands as they massage a cluster of shiny round stones. Rizvan’s belongings are now being searched at the immigration area. The immigration officer examining his bag looks at his ID card and then quickly at his face as if to confirm something. The viewer waits with bated breath. The officer slaps a frayed ID card on the table and the camera zooms in on the card, which tells us that Rizvan is a person with autism. The difference has been registered and Bollywood’s introduction to autism has begun.

The aforementioned excerpt is from my notes on the Bollywood film titled My Name Is Khan. My Name Is Khan centers on the journey of Rizvan Khan, a person with Asperger’s syndrome, as he attempts to capture the attention of the president of the United States to convey the message that he is not a terrorist. My Name Is Khan is an intriguing film not only because it happens to be one of the few Indian films to feature a central character with autism but also because it represents the growing global cultural fascination with autism and the unique kinds of “viewing” that it generates (see Murray, 2008). This chapter...

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