Abha Khetarpal Maurya is the President of Cross the Hurdles, a counsellor for people with disabilities and an award-winning disability rights activist. She was one of the four protagonists on the National Award winning documentary Accsex, in which she spoke candidly about living as a woman with a locomotor disability.
Recently, Abha celebrated her one-year wedding anniversary. In a conversation with Sexuality and Disability, Abha shared the story of her relationship with her now-husband, and spoke about the barriers that continue to stop people with disabilities from freely pursuing romantic and intimate relationships.
How did you meet your husband?
Our story is ultimately about love…love that knows complete acceptance and complete surrender, that promises to grow old together, that does not hesitate to compromise, that is not ashamed of deformities, that does not judge.
I met my husband on a social networking site four years ago. Gradually we became friends. We used to talk for hours via chat or on the phone, and eventually began to like each other.
I think what he liked the most about me was my honesty, my inner strength and independence. It was his simplicity that attracted me towards him: he did not even know how to flirt!
We started meeting in person, and my family also liked him. Being a disability rights activist and a speaker, I had to attend conferences and workshops, and he began to take me to these events.
He was the one who proposed via email that the two of us should be in a relationship. I still remember, it was on the morning of the 1st of January in 2013 that I received his email. To my surprise, he was afraid that I might turn down the proposal. As far as my feelings are concerned, I really can’t express them in words.
Despite obstacles, we kept our love and mutual respect alive and managed to navigate our relationship for three years. Since we had been friends first, it was easier for both of us to understand each other. Our emotional bond grew stronger with time.
A year ago, we decided to settle down as husband and wife. This wasn’t easy for us because of expectations from our families and society at large.
Some said this was a sacrifice on his part. Others doubted him. Those who believed in karma credited my good deeds. (Perhaps they were the same people who thought of my disability as a result of bad karma from a past life.) Everyone was awestruck by the fact that I had a non-disabled, single, good-looking man as my husband!
For me, ours is an ‘inter-ability alliance’. Like any other couple, we fight, and have good and bad times, but we are committed to being with each other for the rest of our lives.
We laugh together and spend time together for hours, but we also give each other space. With our love, our passion, our intimacy, and the way we look at each other, we’re making beautiful memories together.
Have your families been supportive of your decision to be together?
We were really good friends before we got into a romantic relationship. My parents were alright with us being friends. I must confess that I never disclosed to them that we were in love, as I knew they would suddenly get apprehensive about the whole thing.
When we decided to get married, my parents were happy because they already knew him, and they trusted that he didn’t have any issues with my disability.
Unfortunately, I still don’t have the blessing of his family, as they do not want their son to have a wife with a disability. I don’t blame them for this, but I am hopeful that they will accept me at some point in my life.
What’s it been like to go out together?
Before we got married, we never dated – or I should say we never could date – in the conventional sense of the term. Just the thought of being together, even for a few hours, was enough. Before we went out, we would Google wheelchair-accessible places in Delhi – from public parks, to malls, to restaurants. This gave me the chance to do some sightseeing around Delhi and go to its accessible markets.
In our country, privacy is unavailable to persons with disabilities. When I went to public places with him, people assumed that he was my brother, my cousin, or at the most my friend. How can a girl in a wheelchair have a boyfriend?
We are objects of curiosity, and are subjected to all kinds of staring and gazing. When we are out on a date, all our moves are scrutinised, since we are not considered to be sexual beings.
The worst challenge was to see the embarrassment in my parents’ eyes. They were frightened of being asked questions about why their daughter was going out with a ‘stranger’.
The car was the only place we could hold hands. My parents had made it clear to me that I had to be home before dark – not because they didn’t have confidence in me, but because they were worried about my safety.
Before you two met, had you and your family ever talked about relationships?
Before all this happened, my family and I had never discussed relationships. Though my parents were not conservative, they were not sure if I would be completely accepted.
They were scared to the core that if ever I got into relationship with someone, I would get exploited or would have to face rejection at some point of time in my life.
But when they met him, they felt relaxed, because they really liked him.
How do we change the prevailing view that people with disabilities are non-sexual beings?
Awareness, awareness and awareness!
Much of the discomfort people feel about disability may stem from a lack of understanding, therefore it is essential for everyone to understand the social aspects of disability.
While accessibility can provide more opportunities for people with disabilities and non-disabled people to interact with each other, greater public education about disability will increase the general understanding and acceptance of people with disabilities. We need a complete overhaul in mindsets.
I know there cannot be an overnight change, but it is high time for the seeds of revolution to be sown.
Featured image credit: Upasana Agarwal