A volunteer gives final touch-up to a bride during a mass marriage, where 191 couple got married in Ahmedabad, India. Image Credit: PTI

Mumbai: A report titled Disability and Consanguineous Marriages, documenting cases from a Mumbai slum, revealed disturbing facts on how marrying within the family can have a bearing on children being born with disabilities.

“Come April, we will be intensifying our awareness drives and camps to educate people on this issue,” Dr Arun Kumar, CEO, Apnalaya, told Gulf News.

The NGO works with marginalised people in the slums of this northeastern suburb and their study has focused on cases in Shivaji Nagar, Govandi.

The survey points out that out of the 580 cases of disability registered with the NGO, 85 children or 29 per cent are out of consanguineous marriages.

Considering the seriousness of the situation, “Our awareness drive will be carried forward on a rigorous basis from April 1 onwards,” says Kumar. Presently, Apnalaya conducts 8,000 home visits every month and this will be further augmented through open camps and meetings to bring home this point to both men and women.

The campaign will be a challenging one in the predominantly Muslim-area where 21.7 per cent agree to the link between disability and consanguineous marriages with a majority (84.6 per cent) being women.

Women who do not support such marriages constitute 77.4 per cent while only 37.9 per cent do not support it even as 93 per cent of male respondents denied the possibility of linkages between these factors.

Family tradition

Families tend to opt for consanguineous marriages because it would mean getting their children married into a known family and through proposals suggested by relatives; in some cases it is a family tradition to marry within close kin and daughters married within the family.

It also meant property remained within the family.

Delving deep into the relationships between gender, disability, social structure and cultural constructs, what came to light, says Kumar, was how women with disability face multiple levels of discrimination owing to gendered perceptions of a woman’s body, social roles and marriage ability.

“The study also prodded us to highlight the exclusive treatment of Persons with Disability, especially in the form of inaccurate enumeration,” says Kumar. A Right to Information (RTI) response cited that the M-East Ward (a municipal division) has only 1,596 people with disability which is extremely disproportionate going by the total population of over 800,000.

“In our estimate this number should be around 31,000, given the fact that disability in Mumbai slums is 5.6 per cent of the population.” Mumbai city has 500,000 people with disability and Mumbai slums accounted for 300,000 of those. India estimates a mere 2 per cent — 26.8 million — of its population being disabled.

By global standards of percentage, people with disability in the USA stood at 15 per cent, UK 12.2 per cent, Australia 18 per cent and Egypt 4.4 per cent.

The clear case of undercounting in India results in under-representation making it more challenging for the population to fight for rightful entitlements. The situation is worse in deprived slum settlements.