We are Both Disabled! A Marriage of Appreciation
By Shruthi Venkatachalam and M. Anjum Khan
The contemporary society has set a trend of caring for oneself. Caring for others is entrusted to nurses and professional caregivers. However, caring for each other is an innate characteristic of human bonds. The institution of marriage is built on various emotional dynamics and one such important aspect is care. The couple cares for each other and shares responsibilities. However, there are differences in the measure of dependability and care. There are several discourses on the concept of care in relation to disability. The present article attempts to examine the coalescence of reciprocated care and interdependence in the marriage of a disabled couple with the help of direct narratives.
Using qualitative enquiry, the paper tries to accentuate the narratives of two disabled couples wherein one of the partners has low vision and the other partner is hundred percent blind. The narratives emphasize how these couples perceive care and how it gets manifested when there is some shared space in terms of presence of disability and its difference in the degree of impairment. Couples were chosen through personal contact and their consent was sought before including their narratives. Moreover, couples who live in a nuclear set-up were chosen in order to minimize the interference of other sources of care.
The article tries to delve into the manifestation of care between couples wherein both the spouses are disabled and initiate dialogue on care from their own standpoint. The first narrative relates the account of Meena and Maniraj (names changed), a couple with disability. The wife is hundred percent blind and the husband has limited vision. Meena admits that her married life with Maniraj is ideal. Nevertheless, she does not regret her premarital life with her family. However, she feels a part of everything in her married life, whereas she felt alienated before. She says that her husband has enabled her to stretch beyond her confines.
Meena recalls the initial disillusionment she felt as a person with visual impairment marrying a person with similar disability. She had hesitated to accept Maniraj in the beginning owing to the difference in their caste and religion, the latter being a Christian and the former a Hindu. However, she identified the integrity of this proposal and grew resolute. Despite the resistance from Maniraj’s family, they married and, at present, live contentedly with a three-year-old child.
Meena observes that the care she received from her parents and siblings was out of responsibility, while the care which she received from Maniraj is utterly out of love. Further, she says that Maniraj has many friends, who are visually impaired and he assists them all. Generally, he is very considerate and caring. Maniraj renders emotional as well as physical support to his wife. Meena and Maniraj share a common experience in terms of disability. Maniraj cannot drive, but he can read and move around.
Meena and Maniraj are a working couple and share their household chores. Meena is solely in charge of cooking and Maniraj contributes to other domestic responsibilities. In addition to this, Meena appreciates Maniraj’s shopping skills and says that he has a very good taste in clothes. He not only does the shopping, but also involves Meena in it. He helps Meena in buying clothes they both look good in.
Maniraj makes Meena feel that she is very important. Further, he teaches their daughter to respond orally to her mother’s calling. Meena and Maniraj participate equally in every decision making. They have arguments and differences but like any other couple compromise and sort things out.
The second narrative is about Ganga and Veer (names changed), who are both disabled. Ganga has limited vision and Veer is completely blind. It has been over ten years since they married. It is an inter-caste marriage. Veer belongs to the Brahmin community but Ganga is a non-Brahmin. However, it was an arranged marriage. Veer confesses:
Basically, I’m not a very confident person, so I was looking for a partner who could also be my caretaker. In my earlier days, my prayer used to be: it is fine even if I never have sight. But I need the spirit to lead my life as a visually impaired person and find a suitable life partner who doesn’t make me feel bad about being blind. I also prayed to get a good job which would make me financially independent. I don’t know what god thought; he has made my both prayers come true.
Veer affirms that, by and large, sighted individuals hardly ever come forward to marry a blind person. Even parents find it difficult to go and speak to prospective candidates who are non-disabled. Veer and Ganga’s parents confronted similar difficulties and finally settled upon the match between their children. Ganga is a very caring wife. She takes care of all the household tasks. She is a homemaker and industriously takes care of her husband.
Nonetheless, Veer cannot deny that he feels dependent on Ganga. He wishes to be self-reliant at times which he dismisses as a common tendency. He performs heavy lifting tasks at home. Therefore, they live a rather ordinary life where the wife manages the home and the husband earns their living.
Veer and Ganga share the responsibility of making decisions equally. Veer chuckles that Ganga has more influence in making decisions inside the home, whereas he steers their outside affairs. The couple travels far and wide. They do not hesitate to travel. Ganga is good with her communication skills. When asked about feeling inferior, Veer replies:
I have never felt inferior to my wife in terms of difference in degree of impairment or in terms of compromising socially sanctioned gender roles. I completely accept my disability and I’m fully aware of what my potentials are. I’m dependent on someone to carry out my needs; it is the simple reality. And my wife is there and she is helping me so I don’t feel any difference. If we accept the reality, we won’t have any problem, but if we don’t accept it, it will be a big problem.
Veer is interested in learning about innovative technology that would make them more independent. In fact, he is very adept when it comes to assistive technology. Simultaneously, he also teaches his wife how to access the computer and mobile phones. So, Veer feels that they strike a balance when it comes to mutual dependence.
It is most essential to acknowledge the perspective of the spouse whose disability is of a lesser degree to understand if they also feel cared for. According to Maniraj, he has been a part of a special community right through the period of his education. He has experienced his own limits and inability and this makes him appreciate his wife better. Though his parents had opposed the match, he believed firmly in his decision to marry Meena. He is aware of his wife’s contribution to their family and he takes responsibility for tasks which require his assistance. He feels cared for by his wife who tends to the kitchen and other domestic chores. Further, he says, “When it comes to our personal life I feel a sense of completion.”
Likewise, Ganga is very happy and contented about sharing her life with Veer. She finds her marital life to be a very regular one. Like any other wife she believes in serving the needs of her husband. She has no complaints that her husband is unable to do certain things. In fact, she takes pride in her husband’s accomplishments. She is financially dependent on Veer and respects his opinions. She feels cared and provided for. In return, she meticulously takes care of the house and offers her help to Veer whenever required.
From the above narratives, one can trace the evidence of relationships that challenge common notions of care, where the care giver is commonly seen as powerful and the care receiver is identified as weak. The narratives signify how the awareness of one’s own self as disabled and having a shared experience with the partner, who is also disabled, establishes the importance of interdependence and how it facilitates to minimize the power imbalance between the disabled couple. However, one can also follow the ways in which mutual care and the difference in degree of impairment between the couple, determines patterns of negotiation in establishing a familial conformity that upholds patriarchy as a norm in marital relationships.
Shruthi Venkatachalam is a full time doctoral scholar at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai. Her areas of specialization are: disability, gender, and access to justice. She has attended many national and international conferences both in India and abroad. She is an active social worker.
Dr. M. Anjum Khan is an Assistant Professor of English in Avinashilingam University in Coimbatore. Her expertise lies in literary history, culture, and literary theories. She has presented and published papers and chapters in books. She has also authored a book on a less known community. She has five years of teaching and eight years of research experience. She supervises the research work of Masters and M.Phil. scholars.
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