Contributor(s)Wristen, Julia Kalila (Author)
Henn, Alexander (Thesis Director)
Bennett, Gaymon (Committee Member)
Barrett, The Honors College
School of Politics and Global Studies
School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies
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Abstractabstract: Experiential evidence leads specific individuals and groups within India to believe that individuals with disabilities are marginalized due to a Hindu value system that stigmatizes disability and relegates individuals with disabilities to below average social positions. I experienced this perspective firsthand by spending two months volunteering at an orphanage in India that cares for individuals (primarily children) with disabilities and significant health issues. The orphanage identifies with a Christian tradition, framing their perspective in a worldview that declares that all human beings have equal value regardless of their physical health situations. The orphanage perspective declares that there is a Hindu religious paradigm that stigmatizes individuals with disability in a manner so extreme that it leads parents to abandon their children with disabilities. From the orphanage perspective, this Hindu religious belief is what inevitably leads to the need for orphanages for children with special needs because the stigma that the orphanage perceives leads to abandonment. This premise led me to an investigation of perceived cultural and societal norms and Hindu beliefs within India that may lead to the marginalization of individuals with disabilities. In order to do this, I first had to contextualize the perspective of the orphanage. From there I looked to Indian disability policy and sought to connect stigma and disability in the secular and social realm, evaluating whether or not secular policies can be said to contribute to or detract from a stigma of disability. I then looked to Hindu beliefs, to determine whether or not Hinduism can truly be said to, in a generalized manner, marginalize individuals with disability, and furthermore the caste system, to evaluate what India’s social hierarchy might have to say about disability. The goals of this thesis are to evaluate the popular Hindu beliefs that are often blamed for the stigmatization of disability, and to analyze policies regarding disability and examine how these policies are affected by the religious context in which they are situated. To what extent does Hinduism encourage or contribute to a society or culture in which individuals with disabilities are treated badly, and how do Indian policies regarding disability respond to that? I come to the conclusion that the stigma related to disability in India is far more complex than simply a Hindu belief that mandates it as so. There are social and economic factors that play into it, as well as deep-rooted cultural ideologies in both the tradition of the orphanage that perceives Hinduism as stigmatizing of disability, and Indian religion and social hierarchy. I furthermore find that, though there are numerous disability policies in place to provide human rights to individuals with disabilities, these policies ultimately do not work to tear down the stigma and the roots it does have in ancient religious tradition and social hierarchy.