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13 Questions: indian campaigner Anita Ghai

by Ivy Broadhead

22nd July 2010

When a twenty-two year old Anita Ghai applied to get into the Indian civil service in 1980 she was told that disabled people couldn’t take the exam. She realised that even if she didn’t consider herself disabled by her mobility impairment, others did, and that neither the women’s movement nor the disability movement were doing enough for disabled women.
Anita Ghai
A few decades on, Dr. Anita Ghai is an academic, advocate and campaigner for disabled women’s rights in India, teaching and researching at the department of psychology at Jesus and Mary College, New Delhi, where she is currently Teen Murti Fellow, as well as chairing the Indian Association for Women’s Studies.

I caught up with Anita while she was giving a keynote speech at a conference on disability in Manchester, and hopefully caught some of her boundless enthusiasm too as she answered our 13 Questions.

My first job was...

teaching psychology in Delhi in 1984. I studied there at the University of Delhi, and then got a job at Jesus and Mary College. Now I’m a research fellow working on gender, disability and care. At the moment, I’m talking to the mothers of disabled daughters, and the daughters themselves, hoping to feed it in to policy change. Things won’t improve drastically overnight, but one can only try.

I struggle with...

Attachments to people. You have to understand that things will change, people will go away, and not to get too connected. In one sense Indian culture teaches you detachment, and that’s something I try and practise.

I excel at...

Resilience. I had polio at the age of two, then two open heart surgeries, and then breast cancer in 2005. My parents always said every human being suffers, but I think it’s all dependent on how you look at it. Life has to go on.
Ricky Ponting

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Well my friends and family of course, and I love sports, so I would love to have some Indian or Australian cricketers, like Ravi Bopara or Ricky Ponting. I’m fond of film, serious as well as entertaining stuff, so maybe I could have a couple of movie stars too.

Most people don’t know...

That I can get depressed some times. I just love life, I’m that kind of generally happy person, so I think if people saw me down they would be quite surprised.

If I didn’t live in India, I’d live in …

I went to America to study, but I couldn’t stay anywhere for too long without my family. I do travel a lot, I’m in Manchester right now and I’ve been here one and a half months, but I always have to go back. I cross off the days until I can go home again!

I couldn’t live without....

My family. I have an apartment opposite my mother’s, and my brothers live there too with their children. I get to have my own space, and to see them whenever I want, it’s the best of both worlds!

I would like to ban...

Negative attitudes towards disabled people. in India especially, culture doesn’t paint a very positive picture, but I think it’s a universal problem.

Disability in India...

Is very much thought of as a negative thing, a punishment, even a kind of divine retribution. For example marriage for disabled women is a very difficult endeavour; there are so many problems to do with dowry and arranged marriage.

Accessibility in India…

Is still a big issue. just having ramps, and being able to take a bus can be a real problem there, where as in the UK I’ve found things much easier.

Are things improving for disabled people in India?

Yes, but it will take time. We had the Equal Opportunities Act in India in 1995, but the implementation is not of the same order as it is in the UK. The cultures are different, so obviously there are different issues. For example, abortion of disabled foetuses is complicated by the fact of sex selection in India. It’s not as simple as doubling the oppression, but the issue of women’s rights definitely adds to the challenges facing disabled women; it’s a patriarchal society, so many would say that all women are disabled.

I became interested in psychology....

Because when I started out, there were no disability studies programmes in India. I got into the disability and health side of psychology, and slowly moved more into gender and disability studies. Of course psychology itself is still useful, in terms of the subjectivity of disabled women’s own experiences.

My dream would be

To create a disability studies programme in India, so that we can work more effectively for disability rights there.


    • 1. At 06:30am on 26 Jul 2010, trij wrote:

      hey all i respect that disable people to get more respect and help;i support u all as u all re more stronger then other people i salute u all. Its the undisabled people who think u r disabled but i think u can conquer world so show the world u strength

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