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SOME ASPECTS OF THE DEAF EXPERIENCE IN INDIA Jill Jepson Introduction Indian deaf people and their hearing family members have explained, evaluated, and interpreted deafness, in narratives for me. Their narratives suggest a pattern in the ways some people come to accept deafness, to acknowledge it as a legitimate way of being, and to afford it arelatively normal status. This normalizing process is most commonly expressed as a realization that their own deafness or that of their family member is a 'natural' thing or, in Hindi prakritic. The notion of 'naturalness' is complex and multifaceted. Several components of this notion and the role it plays inthe lives of deaf people and their families are explored here . Initial responses to deafness As part of an ethnographic study I conducted in India in 1987 and 1988 I collected the narratives discussed below. I investigated in depth the lives of deaf adults in both urban and rural settings throughout India. The study was broadly oriented to understanding patterns by which deafness is managed; i.e. the participation by deaf people in the social and economic system, their means of communication, and the attitudes and beliefs that structure the experience of deafness in India. These narratives were collected in several areas, including rural and urban regions of the states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharastra, and Tamil Nadu. Participants in this study included men and women of different age, economic status, and level of 0 1991 by Linstok Press, Inc. See note inside front cover. ISSN 0302-1475 453 Jepson education. Because of the lack of rigor in arriving at this sample, and because of the unstructuredness of this approach, the discussion presented here can be considered only explorative and tentative. Nonetheless, the patterns that emerge in the narratives I collected present some interesting suggestions about the ways some deaf Indians and their family members think about deafness. For Indians to accept deafness is by no means an immediate or easy decision. Typically, it is a conclusion that is drawn after a protracted period of adaptation. As in other cultures, the discovery of deafness in a child or the loss of hearing at any age is an occasion for grief, despair, and fear. All of the late-deafened people and the families of deaf members I interviewed described their early responses to deafness as extremely unhappy times marked primarily by frantic and frustrating searches for causes and remedies. People who were born deaf, while not embarking on such searches themselves, often felt themselves to be pawns in their families' attempts to 'cure' them. These searches for causes and 'cures' took various forms. Most commonly, they included: (1) visits to allopathic physicians, (2) searches for cures through folk or traditional medical treatments, and (3) rituals, fasts, vigils, and other religious practices. Such attempts-especially the appeal to allopathic medicine-were often expensive and time consuming. Many people described visiting one physician after the other and sometimes travelling many miles to consult with them. This period of searching and working to cure deafness was, for most of the people I interviewed, very prolonged, often covering a period of years. Moreover, for some people, the searching and attempts to find remedies never ended. Nevertheless, a significant portion of the people I interviewed no longer considered themselves to be searching for either a cause or a cure of their own deafness or that of a family member. Rather, they had experienced a shift toward a very different view of what deafness meant. For this substantial number of people, deafness was no longer experienced as an abnormality that must be fixed or a tragedy that must be endured, but a simple fact of existence that could be dealt with in successful ways while living a relatively SLS 73 Deafness as prakritic normal life. Most commonly, this acceptance was voiced as a realization that the deafness was 'natural' or 'meant to be.' In Hindi, the term employed was prakritic,a word that refers to things that are part of the natural order of the world: * ... he took [his nephew] from doctor to doctor and from person to person and everyone said that it isnatural.... * ... I brought my son to some.. .gods...


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