We have spoken to Sukhjeen, the creator of the #desiabled campaign – social media movement raising awareness and empowering disabled members of the South Asian community. Continue reading to find out more about why she started the campaign and what it has achieved.
Sukhjeen Kaur is a disability advocate for the South Asian community and the founder of the non-profit organisation Chronically Brown which advocates for South Asians living with invisible and visible disabilities. You can find the organisation on Instagram, Twitter and on Facebook as a community group. Sukhjeen lives with multiple physical disabilities that motivate the work.
She is passionate about diversity and inclusion within the wider disability movement and addressing the stigma of disability within South Asian communities. Through this she has completed talks with conferences for Galapagos, Patients as Partners Europe, University of Oxford and been featured on ITV News, BBC Asian Network and The Independent. This work has concluded her as an expert on diverse representation and intersectional communities and shortlisted for the Campaigner of the Year Award from the British Diversity Awards.
Living with multiple physical conditions is challenging; most disabled people know this. We fight to make it through the day and achieve what others call daily activities. Alongside this, we are discriminated against for merely living in society. Layering this on top of being a brown woman makes the world almost impossible to live in. After starting Chronically Brown, I have constantly been asked what being a disabled brown woman is like. But how can I explain a lifetime of discrimination to someone? Regardless, I am going to attempt to simplify it.
Ultimately, we are fighting for a place in both communities. We try our hardest to be heard in the disabled movement by removing our culture, ethnicity, and religion. And we try our hardest to be heard in South Asian communities that refuse to acknowledge disability. The intersection of these two communities is hardly recognised, although our experiences can differ from peers. This doesn’t include the increased likelihood of discrimination. We are victims of sexism, racism, xenophobia, ableism, and religious discrimination/islamophobia. We are a minority, within a minority.
But why does this stigma exist? In wider society, disability and access are thought of last, which doesn’t normalise the conversations surrounding the movement. It makes the discussion a radical act, something to be frowned upon. If you need to know anything about this community, it is that South Asians value their reputation the most. The combination of reputation and speaking out results in the community silencing the disability movement. It created a stigma so deeply engrained we no longer know how to interact with disabled people. As you can imagine, disabled South Asians would suffer the most from this.
Interestingly, the University of Surrey explored which ethnicities are more likely to suffer from a physical disability. It was found that South Asians were more likely to live with physical disabilities. Although it was not surprising, it did alarm me. The culture is so entrenched in upholding their reputation that they silence a majority of the community. It started to make me wonder if we hated our own people. Alongside the silence around disability being so loud, it also meant that disabled South Asians were quiet. We continue to internalise this ableism towards us.
It was here that #desiabled was born. The name came from a contraction of ‘desi’ and ‘disabled’; two very different communities together. Out of all the reasons #desiabled was started, the biggest reason was to start conversations in the South Asian communities. We hoped to empower the disabled people within the community to own their disability proudly and get the non-disabled to start listening and learning. But we also believe the other reasoning behind #desiabled gave it the power it needed. These included diversifying the wider disabled movement to include South Asians and giving a platform to South Asian disabled advocates. Our hope for this is to make digital activism easier for disabled South Asians and encourage disability organisations to include more South Asians in their panellist events, workshop and more!
Saying this, as disabled South Asians, we aren’t able to work towards tackling the stigma without allies. Support from outside communities is vital to starting the discussions that have become ‘radical’. Support can include learning and listening to the disabled South Asians that share their stories and then subsequently sharing that story with communities you know. It can also include supporting organisations like Chronically Brown through funding, volunteering or just sharing current projects with others. ‘Diversifying’ has become a slight buzzword, but I do want to actively encourage you to assess who you surround yourself with and see if they reflect you. For example, if you want to support disabled South Asians are you reading about the experiences they have had, are you following them on social media, are you speaking up for them in spaces they aren’t involved in? These questions will remove you from tokenistic support and into allyship.
So far, we have been successful in the pursuit of our campaign which has had over 500+ posts across multiple social media channels. It has also resulted in us being nominated for the National Diversity award 2021.
Remember if it connects with who you are, use #desiabled in your next social media post!
At To Better Days, we care about supporting the chronic illness community. We want to use our platform to empower those who need their voices to be heard. If you are someone who would like us to share your story, business or campaign relating to chronic illness, please contact us at [email protected]