This Blogpost is written by Ms. Shabina Bano, Reasearch Officer at Score Foundation. The views expressed here in are her own.
The need for marriage or a relationship is one of the basic and most important needs of people with and without disability. People with disability may also have a desire to have companionship and want to raise a family.
But when it comes to people who have a disability, marriage is one institution where stigmas can be starkly highlighted.
The Government of India has introduced a scheme which incentivises marriage between disabled and non-disabled people. The purpose of the scheme is to promote greater acceptance and inclusion of disabled people in mainstream institutions such as marriage. This one time lump sum grant is given to the couple once they get married. The amount differs from one state to another. In the majority of states, the amount is Rs 25,000/-. Indian society is full of instances of discrimination and exclusion of people with disability. Marriage is often not even recognised as a need for people with disability.
I believe that marriage at the core of it is a partnership between two people. If that partnership is between a sighted and a visually impaired person each of them has an opportunity to understand the others point of view. It will also help each of them understand that sight or lack thereof does not make anybody sub- or superhuman. A visually impaired person is just as independent and self reliant as a sighted person, and marriage is the perfect setting to prove this. I am also hopeful that such a couple will raise children more likely to be sensitive towards disability.
The strategic policy of the government is no doubt to encourage the non -disabled population to look at disabled people as potential life partners, instead of dismissing them straight out because of their disability. Providing a grant or incentive to sighted people is hoped to influence their mindset towards the marriage potential of a visually impaired person.
But the scheme is controversial. It begs questions such as,
should the formation of a marriage be incentivised or influenced by the government?
Will this scheme be helpful in changing mindsets or will it forever brand visually impaired people as charity cases, who no one will want to marry unless offered cash incentives?
Can a marriage be long lasting if it is based on greed or the hope of monetary gain?
Is there a need for such a provision to promote inclusion and acceptance of disabled people in the society? Or is it patronising?
Finding a marriage partner is one of the most challenging tasks for people with disability in India. Incentivising the institution may influence people temporarily but at the heart of it the problem persists. The need is to create mass awareness and sensitization and at the same time to showcase the positive image of people with disability who are leading happy married life.