ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

“Mother’s sorrow of losing a child is like a river, it won’t stop”: experiencing violence through the grief of an autistic son in Bangalore (South India)


Manganelli Marie - Université Paris Cité, Anthropology, Paris, France


37 – Violent births and deaths: coping with challenging life experiences in South Asia


 Bhumika’s scattered experience of the present is deeply marked by the repeated deaths of her loved ones. After her brother died in an accident, she lost both parents and most importantly, her fifteen-year-old autistic son, Kuttu, to cancer in 2009. Nowadays, Bhumika is a special education teacher and trains other mothers to work with children with autism. She takes this opportunity to “keep her son alive”. While she cherishes remembering him as a young child and sharing stories about him with her trainees, the act of recalling his end of life is a very intimate one that is fraught with silence and immense sadness. It opens the door to a world of infinite pain, “a sorrow she cannot take”. Ten years later, his death still haunts her, his unutterable absence making him inescapably present. Indeed, her daily efforts to mute her pervasive thoughts and overwhelming emotions seem to have frozen their acuity.

In this presentation, I will question the multiple meanings taken on by violence and grief through the prism of her experience. Bhumika has two sons, but she had built her whole world around Kuttu, the fruit of learning a new kind of maternal care and “accepting” his condition. I will argue that the thickness of this world made the tragedy of losing Kuttu even more unbearable for her. Becoming a special education teacher helped her overcome her depression, but Kuttu’s very unique expression of “love” and “softness” still resonates in her present through signs.