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Naa Mein Naa Hai. Consent and Love. - Guest Column by Srinidhi Raghavan

February 18, 2019

In this week's guest column, Srinidhi Raghavan, Senior Programs Consultant with Rising Flame, talks about the learnings from a recent workshop organized for people with visual disabilities. A Mumbai-based non-profit, Rising Flame is working for the recognition, protection, and promotion of human rights of people with disabilities, particularly women and youth.

On the 9th of February, we at Rising Flame launched our national workshop series Naa Mein Naa Hai. Our aim was to begin having conversations with people with disabilities on love, romance and the complexities around consent.

The workshop was organised with support from Blind Graduates Forum of India and Tanya Computer Centre. We had 25 participants, mostly blind and low vision people of all age groups, who attended. Only six were women.

During the course of the half-day workshop, participants explored a range of topics in the universe of consent. They began by talking about the emotions, feelings and words used about sex - without using the word sex. This exercise helped them explore their comforts, discomforts with talking about sex.

Comforts, discomforts

One of the participants said after the opening exercise, "It is easy to talk to friends about sex. The fear of talking to a stranger about sex had me wondering if they are judging you." This sentiment resonated among the other women present in the room. This opened up the room to the gendered ways in which we all approach sex and romance.

Following this, the conversation veered to understanding consent in our everyday lives, particularly as people with disabilities who often negotiate consent for assistance. Many participants shared their experiences with regards to this. Some expressed concern about accidental violations of people's personal space. Others spoke about finding it difficult to receive the correct support while on the streets. Through this, the conversation moved to consent and the specific experiences of people with disabilities, not just with respect to mobility.

Situating consent

The gender disparity in the attendance meant a lot of the conversation addressed gender and power differences in the way each of us approach love, romance and consent. One of the participants raised the question about how consent often focuses on women's experiences and not on men. The discussion that followed highlighted how each of us comes to comes to every relationship with our own baggage of love, sex, romance, and rejection. This added much-needed clarity to many of the questions around "why women respond this way?", "Why men act this way?".

We were also able to explore how consent is sometimes perceived as men "seeking" consent and women "giving/rejecting". The conversation helped the participants to challenge this notion which in turn approaches consent and romance from the pleasure lens.

Through podcasts, Hindi songs and movie dialogues, the workshop focused on how each of our expectations from relationships vary. Some spoke about the need for explicit verbal consent since some visual expressions and body language can be missed because of their disability. Others felt body language can still be sensed through the person's actions. In this way, we were able to explore multiple ways in which consent changes based on the person involved.

The active participation of the group steered the conversation to learning how we have been conditioned to seeing consent and sex from the lens of gender and able-bodiedness. Participants also spoke about how women with disabilities "don't want to attend these workshops because of the stigma of being seen as "loose" when they talk about sex."

By the end of the workshop, many questions were raised such as: 'Do men and women relate to sex and love differently?' 'Is it stigmatized for a woman to love sex?' 'Is consent differently negotiated for people with disabilities?' 'Does consent differ in relationships of assistance and care giving?' 'Do men always give consent?' 'Is women's relationship to consent via violence?'

We were excited to see the shift in engagement through the workshop to opening up to the idea that persons with disabilities are entitled to their yes's their no's and their maybes. We hope to do more of these workshops across the country and focus on situating consent as a natural part of relationships.

ALSO READ:Workshops by Rising Flame seek to create a space for disabled youth to talk about consent, sexuality

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