As a student Shaheel Mohammad fought for rights of physically challenged students. Now he hears their problems and finds solutions. Mohammad Afzal Sofi reports.
When Shaheel Mohammad, 28, joined the University of Kashmir as a law student, there were many difficulties that he and other physically challenged students faced. These problems brought them together in the form of an association. Still it took them a long time to bring the difficulties to the notice of varsity administration and make it act.
But today if a physically challenged student faces any problem in the university, he is there to hear him out.
Shaheel is the coordinator of the KU’s special cell for specially challenged students. At the cell his job is to provide guidance and counselling to students with special challenges, and to act as a bridge between them and university authorities.
The setting up of a cell was one of the demands Shaheel had made as the president of the Kashmir University Disabled Student’s Association during his student days.
In 2009 when the cell was set up, Shaheel had graduated and was practising at the J&K High Court.
“The work we did in the university was the collective work of the association but the university recognized my individual efforts as well due to which I was chosen for this post,” said Shaheel. He says the establishment of the cell was the need of the hour.
A resident of Chee Village in Islamabad district, Shaheel was three, when he was afflicted by polio that affected his whole body.
After three years of medication he recovered but the disease left a permanent disability in his left leg. That did not, however, stop Shaheel from schooling.
“After getting affected by this disease, life was a challenge for me, but with the support of my family, especially my father, I was able to make it well. With the help of my father who is a teacher I was able to go to school and compete. I was unable to walk a distance, my father used to take me to school on his back,” recalls Shaheel.
His father’s support and counselling, helped him move ahead in life.
Shaheel topped the 10th class examination in his school. After completing B.A from Islamabad College, he joined LLB course at the Kashmir University, which he completed in 2008.
After practising law for some six months at the High Court, he was appointed as the coordinator for the KU’s newly set up Special Cell for physically challenged students.
Shaheel says that the problems faced by disabled people in Valley despite several reservations provided by government would make him upset. He wanted to do something for other disabled, so he joined the All Jammu and Kashmir Handicapped Association, while he was still in higher secondary school. The association fights for the rights of the disabled and full implementation of Jammu and Kashmir Disability Act.
Shaheel would also take up issues of disabled students with the authorities in college, but it was in the university, he says, that he found a proper platform to fight for the rights.
“I was always upset with the callous attitude of the authorities in college, but in university we fought for our rights collectively and in a well organised manner and we received good response from the authorities,” he said.
At the university he and fellow disabled students formed the Disabled Students Association, of which he was chosen as the president.
“We organised several seminars in collaboration with the Dean Student’s Welfare and other departments of University of Kashmir in order to highlight our problems and difficulties. We also conducted meetings with higher university authorities for the welfare and rehabilitation of physically challenged students,” said Shaheel.
Consequently several steps were taken by the university authorities to facilitate the disabled students which included construction of ramps along staircases in some departments, lift facilities in newly constructed buildings and reservations in courses.
In one of the meetings with the Vice Chancellor (VC) the association presented a research report regarding the problems faced by the disabled students in the university and asked for the establishment of special cell.
“I did the research regarding the issues pertaining to handicapped students in the valley single-handedly and presented the report to the university authorities, who acknowledged the problems and also took some remedial measures,” he said.
This special cell was established in 2009 under the supervision of Dean Students Welfare. Besides guidance and counselling the objective of cell is also to facilitate admissions for students with special challenges.
He says the cell has been instrumental in facilitating a special quota for disabled persons for B.Ed and M Ed. (distance mode) courses. A special scholarship scheme has also been introduced. Students with visual impairment can now take helpers for writing examinations.
Shaheel says the cell also facilitated the admission of a physically challenged student for MA program despite not being in the selection list. The student has no hands and has developed capability of writing with his feet.
Shaheel says the rights and privileges given to disabled by the state laws and rules, lack proper implementation. “There are several people among us who are not even aware about their basic rights so we need to inform all of them and press the government to implement its schemes properly.”