More than 24 years after a bullet reduced him to the wheelchair, Javed Ahmad Tak talked to Iqra Akhoon, a day after he received his Padma Shree from President Ramnath Kovind
My name is Javaid Ahmad Tak, I am from Bijbihara (Anantnag). I was born in 1974 at Saraf Mohalla. I completed my schooling up to the eighth standard from Cambridge Public High School. Later, I joined Islamia Hafnia College Anantnag and completed my twelfth class. I joined the Government Boys College, Khanabal for BSc.
At 22, I was in my final year, when I was hit by a bullet in my back and my spinal cord got damaged. Since then, I am wheelchair-bound for the last 24 years. I was not able to attend college but I did not stop my education. I tried to build my capacity, got a diploma in computers from IGNOU, did a course in human rights. My goal was to remain engaged in social works so I did my masters in social work from the University of Kashmir. My classmates, who were mostly younger than me, used to help me at each step.
After I was rendered wheelchair-bound, I was unable to move out from home for two years. That was after being in many hospitals for almost a year. Only then, I came to know that the spinal cord is an injury where a person needs rehabilitation but unfortunately there is no such rehabilitation centre in Kashmir. Then, I wrote a letter to Dr Ghulam Rasool Mir, the doctor who used to treat me, seeking his advice. He said that a scratch in the spinal cord can take 10 years to heal and I had a 40 per cent injury. I was shaken. As I got into thinking with myself, I was sure that God has set me aside for something. So I tried to rehabilitate myself.
Looking For Students
I had almost completed my BSc so I started teaching students who could not afford tuition. Four years later, I started looking for disabled students like me. We found about 36 students, mostly school dropouts. It seemed they will never get an education, so I started from there. Four students came first. Right now, those four students are now perceiving bachelors in different colleges, and some of them were employed in the government. Meanwhile, I and did my masters and later BEd special education, which comprises mental retaliation specialization. I completed MEd in distance mode while continuing teaching.
It was in its follow-up that I along with my team tried to create a platform where some basic facilities could be provided to disabled students. People did help. Barring Bandipora and Kupwara, I and my team visited Kashmir.
We guided disabled persons through training courses about how they can fight it out. Finally, in 2008, we started middle school and got registered it formally registered with the Education Department. In these 13 years, we have educated a lot of students with disabilities. I had a dream that at least I can upgrade this school up to the twelfth standard.
For all these years, I was laughed at and mocked at by people. I faced humiliation and lot of insinuations, but I was always focused on work. I always had an empathetic approach towards the children. There were many parents also, who accused me of exploiting these kids for getting money. Eventually, they understood my passion to work for the disabled. People avoided giving their spaces to us for rent because we were broke.
I had been on the roads personally to raise donations. I remember during one Ramazan, I spent days in Lal Chowk city to raise resources. Right now, I may have got honours but those students whom I taught are my real meddles.
Why Zeba Appa?
When the school was supposed to be named, we decided to dedicate it to a person who had done a great job for society. I had heard about my grandmother who had evolved a herbal ointment for burn injuries. That was the era when Srinagar was far away from Bejbehara. She would apply the ointment to people for free. People used to come to her from far-flung areas keeping her mornings busy
When I came to know all about her, I decided to name this school Zeba Appa so that her name survives in a society where she did something exceptional.
There are various groups working for the disabled but the reality is that disability is largely being seen as a charity. The general norm is that they must be helped with some money and remembered on the occasions of Eid. The social welfare department is doing almost the same thing.
Nowadays if a disabled person visits the education department, they are being told to visit the social welfare department without being asked about their objective of the visit. A general impression is that the disabled have come for the alms.
The situation is changing now, albeit gradually. We have capable students who have earned names in the sports field, qualified civil services examinations. I proudly talk about Riyaz Ahmad Beig and Abid Hussain Kira who are in high positions despite having different disabilities.
But the government is discriminating against the disabled. When any disabled person is appearing in any examination, he or she is being denied a helper. We have taken hundreds of cases to the Jammu and Kashmir Board of School Education but still, they are thinking that we are cheating. They have never explained their apprehensions but have not come out of their biased mentality.
For the disabled, it takes a lot of time to achieve something. I am not alone working for the betterment of the disabled, there are many others working with me. There are a lot of groups working for this cause.
Jobs and opportunities apart, there is no proper facility in buildings like ramps, lifts and many other things. For our deaf persons, there should be signboards on each door. There is a communication barrier to deaf persons.
At the same time, the fact is that people and society are changing. The new generation is evolving with a very broad vision. Initially, we were being ignored but now I feel soft corners in society for us. There is a huge crisis for the disabled in getting married. It is impacting even the people who have government jobs. There are disabled persons who are in their fifties, are well settled but are not accepted. These kinds of things should be changed.
When you receive an award, you have two kinds of feelings – the first one is to reach such a level to be considered for the honour. In twenty years, I was thinking that no one is giving thought over me, only Almighty is watching me but when you receive Padma Shree, it means indicates that people were watching you from every corner. When I was nominated for this award, I felt that everyone is with us, the disabled. But when you get any award, your responsibilities grow accordingly. A lot of people were asking me what will happen after getting this award, how will our sector grow with this.
My plan is to dedicate my life to this sector till I am alive. I have not been voted, nobody made me president. Keeping my disability in view, I step forward. I am trying to help people everywhere they need me. But my long-term vision is to see my Jammu and Kashmir as barrier-free. My goal will conclude the day, our disabled persons who are on wheelchairs, deaf and dumb persons will be facing no issues in their daily lives.
(Hilal Shah processed this report)