Home 5 News 5 Rewriting Fairy Tales: Disabled Women Reclaim Narratives

Rewriting Fairy Tales: Disabled Women Reclaim Narratives

by | May 8, 2024 | News

In a world where fairy tales usually demonize characters who live with disability, the authors of this collection seek to retell classic stories by weaving in their own everyday experiences — the struggles, joys and frustrations that may not be known to the non-disabled.

 A deaf Snow White, a blind Cinderella, a neurodivergent ugly duckling and a wheelchair-using Rapunzel: classic European fairytales have been reimagined in a new anthology of stories written by south Asian women with disabilities.

And They Lived … Ever After grew out of a programme organized by Rising Flame, an award-winning non-profit that seeks to build an inclusive world in which diverse bodies, minds and voices thrive with dignity and live free of discrimination, abuse and violence.

“When disabled people don’t see themselves in the world, it tells us that we don’t deserve to exist, that these stories are not for us, that stories of love and friendship are not for us, and certainly not happy endings,” says Nidhi Ashok Goyal, the founder of Rising Flame, a feminist disability rights group. Children soon realise from fairytales that facial scars, disfigurements and physical differences are fearful, whether it’s the Hunchback of Notre Dame or the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, says Goyal. “Our book is about bringing unseen and unheard stories to people. It is a place for disabled women and youth to find themselves, their realities, challenges and hopes. But most importantly, this book brings a sense of belonging and love, community and friendship to each person who feels left out, misunderstood or different.”

The idea for the book, published in March, came after an online workshop organised by Rising Flame during the pandemic, led by the author Aditi Rao. Those who took part looked at ways to retell stories by weaving in experiences of autism, blindness, neurodivergence, deafness or reduced mobility.

Parita Dholakia, a healthcare professional in Mumbai, reimagined the story of Rapunzel because she identified with being trapped. In Dholakia’s version, when the prince falls in love with Rapunzel and invites her to his palace, although her heart leaps at the chance to see the world, she demurs. “In my Rapunzel, with the help of a nano-enabled hearing aid, she navigates the complex world of complete silence independently,” says Dholakia, who is partially deaf. She says she can barely believe that she is now a published author.

Another contributor to the book, supreme court lawyer Sanchita Ain, reworked Pinocchio to counter social notions of female physical perfection, an obsession perpetuated by fairytales. “It was about introducing the idea of accepting the imperfections in oneself and of people around you,” says Ain, who has a chronic neurological condition.

Ain’s main character is Maryam, a schoolgirl whose artificial leg gets longer every time she lies. Bullied at school and excluded by her peers, Maryam befriends the moon, which tells her: “You can choose how you want to feel no matter what people say.”

Loneliness is a prominent theme in the stories, which Goyal says resonates among readers with and without disabilities. “Non-disabled readers said they could see themselves in the stories – the hurt of being left out by a group and feeling unwanted,” says Goyal, 38, who was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disorder as a teenager.

The team decided to rework European classics but Goyal says the settings – placenames, food, cultural references – are unmistakably south Asian. Her hope is that the stories will make readers realise that the lives of women with disabilities, who she says are at the bottom of the ladder in Indian society, are as rich as anyone else’s.

“There is immense shame and guilt associated with women and girls with disabilities. Very often parents may not count their disabled daughter as their child and even if they do, they pretend it’s a small issue rather than acknowledge her disability and provide the medical support she needs,” says Goyal.

“Society reduces people to their disability, and all it sees is the white cane or the wheelchair. People forget that we have the same human experiences of love, friendship, rejection or fun. We are also part of the social fabric.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

And They Lived … Ever After is published by HarperCollins

 

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