Are We All Alike? 

Questioning the pathologies of the 'Normate'

Tanmoy Bhattacharya

(CASL, University of Delhi)



There is something wrong with homogeneity; the fact that difference is the norm is socio-politically suppressed by brandishing the weapon of homogeneity. We are made to think that we are all alike. In this talk I question our incessant celebration of homogeneity and show further that normativity is that unifying underlying force working for homogeneity. This overwhelming normative presence demands an examination of the system of knowledge, since, in spite of its oppressive presence, normativity is rarely questioned.
I will take up the case of education for marginalised groups in order to demonstrate the above. In the field of education, whether it is through the curriculum, the delivery, or the material, normativity conspires to construe a bias in the mind of the learner. There are two ways to address the issue of education for the marginalised, through ‘constitutional reforms’ and by ‘questioning normativity’. Within the reform strategy, the question of whether or not to address such an issue as a ‘special’ case arises, in turn, compelling us to reopen the discussion on the much abused issue of inclusion. I will suggest three ways of achieving inclusion: through empathy, as a right, and through Dalit/ Disability centric knowledge system. I will show that both the empathy and the right perspectives fail, primarily because the first leads to charity and second to rampant non-compliance. However, one issue that is often neglected within the domain of inclusive education in general (Bhattacharya, 2010) and has generally been not in the consciousness of educators, scholars, policy makers, and activists, is what I have been calling ‘centring knowledge’ (Bhattacharya, 2012, 2013, 2014a,b). In this paper, I will elaborate this further and show how it can be usefully employed for the education of children with disability and dalit children.
For this third way to work, we need to shift our ontologies from the deficit/ Dalit model to that of the normate (Thomson, 1997). However, Disablism or Dalitism re-inscribes a normate voice on the body of the marginalised, taking us back to the “special”, sectoral, view of the dalit/ disabled. We will appeal instead to the need to shift our gaze to the production, operation and maintenance of normateism and to study the ‘pathologies of the normate’; it is only such an approach that can reveal how such social constructions like disabled/ dalit play an exclusionary role by keeping certain groups out.