Shruti Vaidya

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Chicago, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 10160

Approve Date

April 8, 2021

Project Title

Vaidya, Shruti (Chicago, U. of) "Interpreting Laiṅgikatā: Intellectually Disabled People, “Special” Educators, and Expertise in India"

SHRUTI VAIDYA, then a graduate student at University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, received a grant in April 2021 to aid research on “Interpreting Lai_gikat_: Intellectually Disabled People, ‘Special’ Educators, and Expertise in India,” supervised by Dr. Michele Friedner. This project is based on ethnographic research conducted at vocational centers, workshops, and residential facilities in India and examines the relational dynamic between special educators and intellectually disabled adults, who do not use conventionalized language and require support for activities of daily life. It specifically examines how relational engagements made by educators around the sexual desires of intellectually disabled adults shape both the sexual personhood of intellectually disabled adults on the one hand and the expertise of special educators on the other. The findings suggest that by observing, assessing, and interpreting the body language, behaviors, and actions of intellectually disabled people as being romantic or sexual in nature and acting upon it, special educators, who are usually undervalued and underpaid women, carve out an identity for themselves as experts that occupy a distinct role in the lives of their students, because they do not shy away from addressing sexual matters. Further, educators can either facilitate or regulate the supposed sexual desires of intellectually disabled adults, depending on the nature of their interpretations and the decisions they make thereafter. Engagements made by educators range from distracting their students if they were seen touching themselves to encouraging them to form romantic relationships.