Students who have hearing and visual impairments are increasingly finding it difficult to receive proper education. Syed Asma takes a closer look at the dismal state of affairs for this section of Kashmiri society.
For entering this school, an entry fees needs to be paid. This reporter was also asked to pay Rs 500. “Paying this entry fees is compulsory here. We even ask students to pay the required amount if they have some work with our children (research projects),” says Arshid Siddiqui, principal of Modern School in Solina, which admits children with hearing impairments besides other children.
Rs 500 at each visit! The school must be earning a significant amount from these visits—but where or on what is that money spent on? The school looks like an average one. The building is not so big that it would be difficult to maintain. No new constructions are visible around. It is just the paint on the walls that looks new in the whole edifice.
The school is currently run by the Society for Human Welfare and Education (SHWE). Presently, 86 children with hearing impairments study there along with 300 other children. “Till now we have trained hundreds of special children but now the number is declining especially the blind,” says Siddique.
The specially challenged children blame the SHWE for not improving the school. In addition to the group hearing aid, where speech and hearing training is done, and a few Braille slates on which Braille is taught, it does have must to offer.
“We don’t have much here, I know. But where else can I go? There is no other place (school) to go,” says Suleiman (name changed), a speech and hearing impaired child studying in eighth at Solina. Suleiman wants to be a pilot and fly an aeroplane, he writes in his notebook.
According to school administration, these students are asked to pay a very meagre fee to the school, just Rs 50, and the visually impaired do not have to pay anything. Besides, they have the facility of free lodging and boarding in the school because it is difficult for them to commute on daily basis.
But still, no visually impaired student is seen on the campus and that too for the past several years. The school administration says they are clueless about it.
“They say they are providing free boarding and lodging facility, what more than that? A human being that too visually impaired needs other facilities in the hostel he is living in. Do they provide that? No,” says Nissar Ahmed Najar. “Many who were living there were living in pathetic conditions and chose to leave.”
Nissar heads an association for the visually impaired in Kashmir. He was not visually impaired at birth. He lost his sight when he was almost ten. He then had to leave his studies because of lack of proper guidance and counseling, he says. He presently has a shop and recharges mobile phones.
“When a visually impaired man can recharge a mobile phone, you can make out he has the ability to do anything. It is all about practice and proper guidance that a physically challenged person can get, but unfortunately we do not get any in Kashmir. We are left to God’s mercy,” complains Nissar.
Prior to the 1990s when Society for Human Welfare and Education was not the caretaker of this school at Solina, this school was called Abhidananda Home. It was counted in the best schools of the Valley, according to its former students say. It is said that the downfall of Abhidananda home started after 1990s when its funding agency from India backed off.
“It was after the migration of Kashmiri Pandits that the downfall of this school started, otherwise it used to be among Valley’s best schools and special children were trained in different skills also,” says Hilal Ahmed, an alumnus of this school.
Agreeing to this Arshid says, earlier funds were never a problem for this school “but since we have started managing things locally and privately, lack of funds is the major problem.”
Presently, the school is running on the fees paid by the normal children studying at the School. “The figure is about Rs 10 lakh per annum, out of which about Rs 8 lakh is spent on the salary of the staff and the rest on the specially challenged children,” says Manzoor Ahmed, office in charge. “It is very difficult to manage but we have to. What other options do we have?” They say the government is not listening to their demands and is providing meagre help. “We had sent a requisition of about 7 lakhs last year and they sent 1.35 lakhs,” he says.
The lack of funds and infrastructure is proving quite expensive for children with disabilities.
Abhidananda Home was inaugurated on 14 July 1941, according to its inaugural stone. It was then a school exclusively for the blind. “Then in 1971-72 deaf and mute children were allowed to attend the school and later normal children also started coming in,” says Arshid. She has joined the school in 1977 as teacher and since then is working for these special children. She herself is hearing impaired.
In this school, the special children are trained separately till they reach eighth class, and after that they are made to sit with normal children as they then have to appear in JKBOSE examinations with them. In the board examination, a separate centre is allotted for them. They get a concession of 5 percent to pass the examination than a normal student. A normal student needs to have 33 percent to pass the examination but a physically challenged person has to get only 28 percent.
“It is not a very big concession that we are provided. Keeping in view the facilities we have, concession should be much more,” says Abrar Ahmed Bhat, a visually impaired student pursuing graduation.
Abrar lives at Solina. He has three siblings, and all are visually impaired. Their father is a shopkeeper and could not provide proper medical assistance to his kids.
Abrar wants to give his siblings the best education and wants to make them financially independent, but he says due to lack of avenues, all of them will have to suffer. “There is nothing available for us in the state, nothing at all.”
The school at Solina holds an important position as far as the facilities for the disabled is considered in Kashmir, but the recipients, children and their guardians, are not happy with it. The school administration too agrees with the fact that they cannot provide these children what they should. “It all revolves around money, funds and we do not have enough of them. We are helpless,” says Arshid.
The visually impaired do not approach this school anymore; the roll of hearing impaired is also on the decline. It speaks volumes about the school, say the members of specially challenged unions.
In addition to a group hearing aid and a few Braille slates, no other facilities are available. “We have to work on them personally, sit one to one and teach them,” says a hearing impaired instructor who was giving exams to a group of hearing impaired children. It was their mathematics paper and all of them were busy doing sums.
“It is not difficult to teach them, you should only know how to communicate with them. You should know their language. They are as intelligent as other children, it is only that they can’t hear and speak,” says Arshid. They at times respond to the vibrations, she says.
It is very difficult to make out who among these children is impaired of any sense. They all appear normal and no one wears any hearing aid, only a few in primary classes do. Their teachers say when they grow up they do not like to keep their hearing aids on. “They like normal teenagers get conscious about their appearances, so they avoid wearing these aids.”
Another major facility provider for the hearing and visually impaired is the Composite Regional Center (CRC). They claim to train about 50 blind and deaf children but the visually and hearing impaired people say they aren’t very satisfied with it.
“I have been visiting there from last three years and have not seen any blind child getting trained there and they claim they have 25. The only help that CRC does is the disability certificate that they give and nothing else,” says Nissar.
“If they were really interested in helping the blind, deaf and dumb they would have at least come up with the hostel that they are promising from last three years. It is very difficult for me to come all the way from Sopore to Bemina everyday to learn Braille.”
The disabled students say they are having a tough time getting educated and this is making it difficult for them to be financially independent.
“Unless we are educated, it is very difficult for us to get a decent job and be financially independent. Being financially independent seems a distant dream to us. No government and no ministry is concerned about us,” says Nissar Ahmed.
The blind and deaf come under the larger category of physically challenged people. And there is no proper distribution within this category, they say.
“We due to our disabilities are not preferred anywhere. Till they (government) come up with schools for us, they should give preference to blinds, deaf and dumb in the jobs that we can do. They should create jobs for us,” says Abrar. “Besides, Braille should be introduced at school, colleges and at university levels.”
The concerned government also agrees on the unavailability of infrastructure. “There is no specific infrastructure available for the blind, deaf and dumb, but we have schemes available for generally physically handicapped population in which they are given monthly assistance of Rs 400,” says Tabassum Kamili, Assistant Director Schemes, Department of Social Welfare.
“It should not be the social welfare department only which should provide assistance to these people. Departments like education and health should also come forward and provide required assistance to these less privileged people,” Tabassum suggests.
Rifat Yasmeen is one such example among them who showed that right education and proper guidance can also help them to go for higher studies to fetch a job. She is visually impaired and is presently doing her post graduation from IGNOU. She could qualify the University of Kashmir entrance exam also, but she says her job keeps her busy so cannot attend regular classes.
Rifat due to the lack of Braille at university level records her lecture in a mobile phone and later converts the lecture into Braille.
“We can be KAS officers, teachers, physiotherapists and what not. We can be anything,” says Rifat.
Rifat presently comes from Lal Bazar to Bemina in a local bus and in the campus moves without her stick. She teaches visually impaired children. She has passed her tenth class from a nearby local school where she says she had to face many problems because her teachers were not trained to teach her but her parents supported and worked hard upon her.
Later she went to Delhi and Dehradun where she completed her graduation and has come back to benefit the younger generation, she says. “I never faced any kind of obstacle while I was pursuing my graduation.”
In comparison, Abrar feels it is impossible to complete his graduation seeing the attitude of the people in his institution, he says. He recently appeared in the first year exams of his graduation and had a backlog because the superintendent in the examination hall misbehaved with his writer who left in the middle of the paper and Abrar couldn’t help.
Visually impaired students need to have a writer to write their exams.
Outside Kashmir, writers are arranged by the institutions itself but here, the students have to arrange one on their own.