Why Disability Isn't a 'New Ability' in Kashmir

Representational Photo

Philauri Jaan, a resident of Nepora village in southern Kashmir was shot in her right rib in 1996 during an encounter between militants and security forces. The 12-year-old girl was immediately rushed to Srinagar and remained in a comma for almost two weeks, but due to the unavailability of adequate health services, she was referred to a Delhi Hospital. Although the doctors saved Jaan’s life, the bullet that hit her still lies inside her body. Jaan, who was in seventh class when she was shot is still bed-ridden since then and barely manages to eat and drink by herself.

Jaan’s brother Mohammed Rafiq Bhat, says, “We are still fighting for the rightful compensation.” Bhat alleges that initially, they got a meager amount of Rs. 25000. “To get that sum of money,” Bhat adds, “We had to pay bribes of more than Rs. 15000.”

Jaan is not the only victim of injuries caused due to conflict. Numerous people are living the life of a disabled person due to the regular face-offs between armed forces and militants. But apart from the conflict, there are several other factors such as the topography of the region that causes severe physical injuries.

July 01, 2001 proved to be a doomsday for Aijaz Bhat, a government lecturer from Anantnag. Bhat was travelling back from Pahalgam on a rainy day, when his bike skid and he fell from a height of 25 feet. The accident led to the fracture in his spinal cord. “Since then I am on the wheelchair,” says Bhat. Luckily, Bhat was appointed as a government teacher before the accident took place, which is now proving to be a bane in these tough times. Bhat says with a smiling face, “I have always received love, warmth, and cooperation from my students and colleagues.” He takes his classes on the ground floor.

The major problem faced by the disabled persons is the structure of buildings, which is mostly inaccessible for people with physical disabilities. Bhat also takes all his classes on the ground floor.

People with disabilities need the right guidance at the right time. Padma Shri Javed Ahmed Tak is running an organisation called Humanity Welfare Organisation Helpline, for people with disabilities. Registered in 2003, the orgnaisation opened a school for special children in 2008. Though the formal classes were started in 2006, it was only two years later the organisation got support for its work from Child Rights and You ( CRY ). Tak says, “We got financial aid from CRY that helped us to expand our base. Tak complains that other than his, there is no such school in entire southern Kashmir.

A majority of children drop out of schools every year. The social stigma attachéd to such children prevents them from studying in normal schools. “No one wants to be friends with them,” adds Tak.

Many organisations, which are working for the cause of disabled persons, do not have the required number of rehabilitators. Nowadays, a good number of rehabilitators are coming forward to be part of such organisations. Feroz Ahmed is working with Tak’s organisations for a couple of years. Ahmed who has done a diploma in rehabilitation from Srinagar is contributing with the best of his abilities.

According to Tak, another challenge faced by people with disabilities to come to such schools is lack of transportation facilities, on this Tak says, “We hired a car to bring students from far off locations.” “J&K Police, Tak continues, “also provides us with a van.”

Apart from unnatural causes, many kids are born deaf, mute, and blind every year, but if given a chance, these students can also excel in different fields. While talking about one of his students Saima Hussain, Tak says, “She is now working in a cultural academy. Tak’s organisation with the help of CRY teaches art & craft and music to the physically and mentally disabled students.

Tak’s registered school is till class 8th only and the biggest challenge Tak faces is getting the students enrolled in higher classes. He says, “After 8th class, we get our students enrolled in normal schools, we give them tuitions; they just go to those schools for exams.”

Physical and mental disability is a very big problem in J&K. Tak, whose organisation is working in the direction of advocacy of the rights of disabled persons, describes the condition of physically and mentally disabled children as even worse than animals. Many prominent psychiatrists from time to time have suggested various organisations in the erstwhile state to set up special centres for people with disabilities to ensure that they do not get exploited. The rigorous efforts put by various organisations have led to positive behavioral changes in many mentally unstable children. “Now,” Tak says, “people regret saying bad things for these children.”

Although their learning capacity is very slow, Tak believes, they are now helping their families. Tak himself is a victim of fatal injuries caused due to conflict between militants and government forces. He was pursuing his graduation when he got injured and became bound to wheel-chair. This was the reason enough for Tak to start this organisation with six other people.

He says with pride, “From 2009 to 2014, the Ministry of Youth Affairs asked us to encourage our students to participate in games organized by them. Our students have won medals at the national level also.”

Tak complains that his organisation never got any funds from both J&K and the Indian government. He sent a project proposal to Union ministry of Social welfare once but the officials asked him to get a recommendation from the state government. Tak says disappointingly, “Our file was kept on rotating in secretariat but never got sanctioned.”

Tak’s organisation runs public awareness campaigns, medical camps in various parts of Kashmir. Tak thanks United Way India, Mumbai for supporting them during floods. Tak says, “With their help, we found out both loopholes and positive points.” Tak admits that only national level Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) supported his organisation. “We wrote more than 2000 applications to various state ministers including successive chief ministers, but we always got negative response.”

According to Tak, the disability act was not fully implemented in J&K before 2019, but the abrogation of Article 370 paved the way for the reservation of 4% in employment and 5% in educational institutions for physically disabled persons.

Tak says in a dismayed tone, “Disability is the least priority for our politicians. We are also humans; we should be part of the developmen, so that we can also contribute in the national productivity.” Tak does not want physically challenged people to be at the receiving end.

Tak believes that social security pension should only be given to persons with complete disability. Tak’s efforts motivated Jigar institute in Jammu to work for the same cause. “Our intervention is mostly within the collaboration with the education department through which we conduct hundreds of training programs to help the teachers to teach disabled students at par with normal students,” adds Tak. Tak’s organisation recently made a school in Bijbehara, which is fully accessible for students. At present, there are 110 students enrolled in the school. Humanity Welfare Organisation Helpline also runs Child-Friendly Spaces with UNICEF in 40 villages of southern Kashmir.

Durdana Wani, a 17-year-old girl from Srinagar developed an ailment in right eye at the time of birth. The problem over time started taking a toll on her mental. While her eyes got treated to some extent at All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi, the ailment left a deep impact on her mental health. Wani was enrolled in a special school run by Voluntary Medicare Society (VMC).

Kaiser Jahan, Wan’s mother says, “She initially did very well, but later when we put her in a normal school, few of her teachers did not cooperate, so we had to put her in a special school.”

VMC was established by Dr. Maqbool Mir in the early 1970s. Dr. Mir says, “I was a professor in a medical college and there I saw people with multiple disabilities, this motivated me to start an NGO of my own to help them.

Dr. Mir got help from his friend to get trained personnel for the organisation. Initially, a majority of cases were related to spinal injuries caused by falls, accidents, and firings. The medico strongly believes that persons with disabilities need physiotherapy to be brought back to near-normal life. He opines, “Just medical care is not enough.”

Just like Tak, Dr. Mir agrees that his organisation did not get much support from the government authorities. “I got monetary help from my friends, relatives and through donations given by the general public.”

VMS runs a rehabilitation centre also, where various neurologists and psychiatrists come from time to time. Apart from various programs for mentally unstable children, the organisation also gives Ayurvedic and Unani treatment like massage.

Dr. Mir says proudly, “Two of our trainers are visually challenged only and they are doing a wonderful job.” He adds in a dismissive tone, “Because of Coronavirus, we are not able to run more programs.”

Basheer Ahmed Lone is working with VMR since 2005. He tells Kashmir Observer, “Dr. Mir went door to door for medical intervention but initially, the organisation could not give proper rehabilitation due to lack of facilities.” In 1996, Dr. Mir laid the foundation of the school for special children. Lone adds, “I joined in 2005 and that time we did not have many therapists. Later we gave it the shape of a professional institute.”

At first, the institute had 24 kids and gradually the activities started expanding. “We started as a team of 7 and now we are a team 65,” adds Lone. The organisation has  sub-centres in Kupwara, Leh, Kargil, Ganderbal and, Baramulla. Mental retardation is a huge problem for many kids and improving functional roles in such children is the need of the hour.

VMS also provides home-based programs to those who cannot come to our centres. On government support, Lone says, “Our expenses on one child amounts to Rs. 5100 including transport. The government has supported us with the meager amount, which is not enough to meet even one month.

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