WORTH AN ARM AND A LEG: DISABILITY AND INTIMACY IN THE MAKING OF MADURAI VEERAN
Disability discourses in India appear to be intricately intertwined with intimacy. One aspect of this entanglement is apparent in the familiar yet understudied trope of disability as punishment meted out for certain kinds of intimacies, especially those considered to be transgressive for various reasons. Leprosy serves as one instance. Early discourse of leprosy which designates persons affected with leprosy as ritually impure suggests that one of the reasons for being affected by leprosy may be ‘bad actions’ such as sexual transgressions or violation of kinship taboos. T.A.Wise’s colonial commentary on Hindu systems of medicine documents leprosy being attributed to failure in observing prescriptions of abstinence; a man who ‘visits his wife before food is digested’ (Wise, 259) could contract leprosy. Just as in the leprosy case, bodies marked with impairments such as facial disfigurement or limb damage or amputation have been interpreted in terms of the transgression those bodies may have participated in. Acid attacks on women serve as a contemporary instance of a similar kind, where the retributive facial disfigurement may be perceived as symbolic of spurned love. The Supreme Court of India, invoking a fairly modern notion of disability as a socio response to impairment, recently ruled that acid attack survivors be given the status of disability so that they may benefit from the same socio-economic protections offered to other disabled people in the country. These instances enable us to inquire into what appear to be persistent interconnections between intimacy and disability to find out how each is constituted by the other and under what conditions.