Life does not stop with blindness

Access to nutrition, education and employment is fundamental to subsistence and sustenance of a dignified life. This principle is same for all countries – developed, developing or under-developed – but a certain enemy called ‘inequality’ imbalances this equilibrium. A large percentage of women in India are nutrition deficit at pre-natal, neo-natal and post-natal stages of the pregnancy, when another large percentage protested and amended the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961 in 2017. Such is the ‘inequality’ of our country and the issues resultant of it. Nutrition deficiency is leading to infants being born with congenital disorders affecting their normal growth.

Deepak Shriwas from Chhattisgarh is one such case, now 25 years old, but one who overcame the clutches of a miserable fate by sheer hard work, determination and the reception of timely intervention. He was born in those unfortunate circumstances suffered by a financially poor Indian woman, mothering a malnourished child with a weak functioning heart, hearing impairment and glaucoma inflicted blindness. For his family challenges were many – eight mouths to feed, meager finances of his farmer father, Deepak’s poor health and lack of awareness among parents to rear a visually impaired boy. His father being the only source of income in the family was incapable to meet the rising needs and their lack of awareness kept the family in the dark.

Unaware of the possibilities of living life with blindness, facilities or provisions, institutions or agencies available for rehabilitating the visually impaired people, the family persevered through the years cursing their stars and considering it all as their fate. The only progressive step the parents took was to put Deepak in the nearby mainstream village school. But there was no relief to be achieved in the school. Teachers discriminated and students alienated, leaving Deepak alone in the midst of a crowd. He was designated a separate spot to sit and not treated as part of the class. He had no access to study materials, notes or references, and no scribe to write his exams. There was no awareness, neither for him nor for the school. Only form of education for him was the classroom lectures. This lack of awareness of the school authorities also left them helpless to assist Deepak in any manner. Deepak on some compassionate grounds was promoted at the end of each academic year but didn’t gain anything in terms of learning. This continued till he completed his 9th standard. He couldn’t stand this discrimination anymore and decided not to continue as a liability any longer. He gave up on his education with a heavy heart, refusing to go to his village school anymore. But nobody except him and his mother suffered because neither his teachers nor his classmates had ever accepted him.

After dropping out of school in 2010, the next four years he stayed back at home not knowing what to do pursue next. He wanted to be educated and his mother wanted the same for him, but the question of ‘how’ curtailed them from thinking on it further. They had almost started thinking that it is better to forget than to cherish any unachievable dreams. But little did he know when he watched an episode of  Eyeway’s TV series Nazar Ya Nazariya’ for the first time in 2014 that it was a turning point towards a journey of hope, aspirations and success. He was particularly inspired by a line in the show ‘Life does not stop with blindness’. This line reverberated in him evoking positive emotions. He immediately contacted Score Foundation and shared his problems seeking solutions to many of them. And that effort didn’t go in vain. Eyeway counselor engaged him in conversation trying to understand his circumstances and how informed he was. Deepak seemed unaware and uninformed, for instance, he had never heard of special schools for the blind before.

Thus, counselor faced the challenge of informing him right from scratch on the provisions, rights, facilities, education, employment, institutions etc. available in India for the empowerment of visually impaired people. This totally opened up Deepak’s mind and all his dreams started to seem real once again. He confessed to the counselor that education was his primary need and wanted to pick up his education from where he’d left off. But as initial steps for rehabilitation and bringing his life to normalcy, Eyeway counselor suggested National Institute for Visually Handicapped (NIVH), Dehradun to gain training for multiple skills including computer and vocational training. He joined NIVH and being his ambitious self, learned computer and braille during the same tenure. On his own initiative he also mastered the computer softwares JAVA and HTML. His desire to succeed in life had no bounds after Eyeway gave him the first opportunity to steer his life towards his goals. This drive put him on his heels to educate and train as best as he can in minimum time.  Success seemed never far again for Deepak and self-belief was reinstated in him.

In 2017, he was ready to restart his education. Since regular school was not a possibility, he joined the CBSE open schooling program. Here again he had to face challenges. There were naysayers everywhere who raised negative opinions on the decisions he took, citing his weaknesses.  He had to face this intense negativity when he chose science subjects to pursue his education. This negativity is spread through uninformed opinions due to the lack of information on the part of the general public. Such information is not all true since many steps are taken by the government to make science education inclusive, though there is much left to be done on this end. Here again he faced the lack of accessible study materials and had to tutor himself with the help of videos on YouTube. But he surmounted all this negativity with his determination and cleared the 10th CBSE board exams in 2018 with excellent scores in the science stream. This doubled his confidence and he sought to continue his studies. To be prepared for a career he also decided to gain training in stenography. Eyeway helped him enroll for a stenography course in National Association for the Blind, Faridabad and he starts the course in July 2018 alongside his education through CBSE open schooling.

This case for Eyeway is distinct in many ways. Deepak, his mother, father and five other siblings are indicative of a typical family in India for whom education, employment, nutrition, accessible health services, and information is elusive. These are people who are easily bracketed as BPL, rural, lower caste or disabled and promised to serve through welfare means. Individuals like Deepak prove that if given the right guidance and support no brackets are limiting for them. Deepak overcoming obstacles despite his hearing and visual impairment, weak heart condition and poverty is a revelation to many social scientists and policy makers and he is not the only one. This makes us think if ‘inequality’ is a consequence or a cause.