In conversation with George Abraham on ‘inclusive education’

George Abraham – blind visionary, belter of boundaries and veteran of the impossible.

Just recently, the Supreme Court of India in the ongoing case of Rajneesh Kumar Pandey v. Union of India, made an observation: “It is impossible to think that the children who are disabled or suffer from any kind of disability or who are mentally challenged can be included in the mainstream schools for getting an education.” In an effort towards unwrapping stories of successes of the mainstream education system, here’s a conversation with one of the glowing examples of mainstreaming.

Retention of information or with sufficient reason

Banking Ombudsman Scheme, 2006 (Amended 2017) in its Chapter 4 (8-Grounds of Complaint) (r) states “forced closure of deposit accounts without due notice or without sufficient reason” as a circumstance for redressal of grievance. Vikram Joshi (name changed) turned blind when he was 3 years old as a reaction to a medication he was taking. But his ambitions and hard work never stopped him from taking the less trodden path to success in life. He did his Post-Graduation from Ferguson College, Mumbai in the English Language. Though he tried for public sector jobs he was unsuccessful in finding one. Thus, he mobilized his self-belief and confidence to start a self-employment venture. He had a Savings Account in Axis Bank where he applied for a bank loan to start a self-employed venture. This was when he got to know he was in a difficult situation with his savings bank account frozen and monetary excesses accrued by exceeding his credit card limit. The Bank took freezing of his Savings Account as a corrective measure to this circumstance and this information was retained for a period of three months between his account freeze and Vikram seeking a bank loan.

There is a clear retention of information in this case by the bank but will that serve as a sufficient reason in closing his account is a question to moot but doing it without notice is not justifying the act. Vikram’s requests for allocating some time to pay back the excess sum has been responded to rudely and his loan application was put on hold till he paid back the excess sum. His account was held frozen till the aforesaid condition was met by Vikram. This was when Vikram contacted Eyeway.

Eyeway Counselor shared the RBI and IBA circulars which explain resolutions for such circumstances. We also shared with him the contact of Rajesh Asudani, RBI Nagpur Office who in turn advised him to approach the Axis Bank head office in Mumbai. At the head office, he received good cooperation and the issue was resolved. He was allotted time to repay the excess sum. He later chose to withdraw the loan application from Axis Bank. He applied in SBI and received the loan promptly. Using the money he could start an agro-agency selling agricultural seeds, saplings, fertilizers etc. He is running the agency successfully and also plans to start new ventures for more economic gain.

Banks need to be educated

Banks are under-educated on banking norms and policies. They are unaware of their own apex body’s circulars and notifications. Whose fault is it? The clients are often at the receiving end of this ignorant and indifferent attitude of officials. Ashok Dhoni (name changed), a 17-year-old teenager from Ranchi, Jharkhand is suffering at the hands of two public sector banks – Oriental Bank of Commerce and Bank of Baroda-which adds to several other problems spewed out by nationalized banks in India. Ashok is the youngest of three siblings who were detected with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) at the age of six which has led to a gradual loss of vision. His family’s financial constraints add to the problems Ashok is facing in his life. He was put into a special school growing up, heeding to the advice of his brother’s Mathematics teacher. But the facilities were inadequate in the school and he was not happy there. He convinced his parents to move to Delhi seeking better opportunities and facilities. In Delhi, he enrolled in a Government Senior Secondary School under the Social Welfare Department and got a hostel accommodation. At school, he was actively involved in many cultural and academic activities. With limited support from his family, he helped himself finding scholarship programs to pursue his academic interests.

In hindsight, sourcing money was less hard than depositing and withdrawing it for meeting his needs. Ashok opened an account in the Oriental Bank of Commerce which denied him an ATM card. He finally got the ATM card after producing for himself the RBI and IBA circulars. Then on his attempt to get an ATM card from the Bank of Baroda where he had an account for the past two years seemed even more difficult. Not only he was denied an ATM card, he was asked to bring along two account holders to give an undertaking on his behalf. At the same, his blind friend was also denied the ATM card by the same bank.

Ashok contacted Eyeway regarding this matter and our counselor provided him the contact of Nodal Officer A. Shankar Narayanan, Deputy General Manager and Deputy Zonal Head, Bank of Baroda. The Nodal Officer confessed his poor knowledge on the matter inadvertently by responding that they are not aware of such provisions for blind and asked him to mail RBI and IBA circulars. He was also advised to drop his complaint in the branch complaint drop box. Ashok did drop his complaint and contacted the officer again after few days, but he refused that he had received any complaint from Ashok. He again contacted Eyeway and the second time we provided him the contact of R L Sharma at the Reserve Bank of India Office. The response is awaited on this matter and Eyeway is keen on the course of this issue.

Empowered by ambition

Manish (name changed) visited the Eyeway center in Delhi with his parents on 16th October 2017. He is a 15-year-old boy pursuing Class 10 in DPS Sushant Lok. He lives with his parents and younger brother in Gurgaon. His vision is affected by Coloboma (a hole in one of the structures of the eye, such as the iris, retina, choroid, or optic disc) since birth but his vision impairment was noticed only when he was in Class 1. He has had few retinal detachment surgeries to prevent total blindness. He was referred to Eyeway by Dr. Varshini Shanker of Shroff Charity Eye Hospital and also by one of our trustees, Rajive Raturi.

Kanishq is passionate about studying Chemistry in his higher classes. But he is unsure and apprehensive of the possibility of following his passion given his eye condition. His school teachers have already suggested exempting him from Math education as it is hard to teach the subject to someone with vision loss. Kanishq wanted to know if he could still study Chemistry despite the fact that he had to drop out his Math class.
He was also curious to learn about career options open for a blind person. He even expressed a desire to pursue Cricket as a career as he extremely enjoyed the sport. We suggested him legal profession as a possible career route.

Manish’s family was completely unaware of the laws and provisions in place for visually impaired people. We suggested them to read up on the latest RPWD Act and we also sent them details of the CBSE rules and provisions for blind students. We recommended him to start using computers for his classwork and exams. Eyeway advised his parents to talk to the school authorities to switch his mode of studies from writing to computers. We also suggested that the school authorities should inform CBSE so they can send appropriate question papers in soft copies in the future.
At this point, it seemed Manish’s main concern was to learn about ways that could help him to cope with his studies. Eyeway suggested him to visit Saksham to learn more about assistive technology and textbooks in accessible formats.