By Sukhjeen Kaur (she/her)
From outside the South Asian community, many are not aware of the stigmas and stereotypes the disabled South Asian community face. Ableism is present everywhere but is, unfortunately, heighten within my community, with many South Asians dealing with ableism in their own home. This is often due to South Asians bullying you into not speaking up, especially if you are a woman. You will come to see that I am against this mentality and will continue to speak up until something changes.
My name is Sukhjeen Kaur, I am British-Indian/Sikh, and I live with Rheumatoid Arthritis & Fibromyalgia. My health conditions inspired me to start “Chronically Brown”. When many of my family members failed to realise how this diagnosis dramatically changed my life, it initially started with me talking about my own experiences. However, this changed when I realised there was hardly any representation of South Asians in the chronically ill/disabled community and vice versa. I also had many South Asians messaging me explaining how they could not talk about their health conditions out of fear of “what will people say”, a common term in the South Asian culture. This mentality was often used to silence our experiences, including our disabilities. It also was a form of ableism, that many people are not aware of.
I was first made aware of this term in regards to mental illness. South Asians are not allowed to speak out if you were struggling, which often lead to extreme repercussions, including in my own family. I was no stranger to the “what will people say” mentality and could understand why many South Asians are still silenced when struggling with their health. If you were to attend family events or invite people over, you would have to act like everything is okay regardless if things are not. Failing to do so, meant the community would have many negative comments to say about you and your family. Understanding this, I wanted to do what I could to show more representation for my community. For this reason, Chronically Brown is what it is today.
There are also many taboo topics within our community, such as periods or digestive problems. With so many chronic illnesses involving these areas, it can mean that symptoms get ignored. Even with a diagnosis, you are not allowed to talk about your illness to anyone as it is not appropriate. I was also informed, through my community online, recently how conditions such as Crohn’s disease are also stigmatised. Due to many people with IBD relying on stoma bags to manage their conditions.
I could go on forever about the problems disabled South Asians face; however, I want to end this on a high. I am grateful for the different herbal remedies our community has to help our conditions. I am thankful that people think of how to help my health in various ways, such as dedicating their time to research my condition and its symptoms. I am even more grateful for the disabled South Asian community; we face stigma and stereotypes on a day to day basis. However, we have found a way to support and lift each other up when we need it most.
(Originally published 13/2/21)