Lack of educational infrastructure and job opportunities for the hearing and speech impaired in Jammu and Kashmir put them at a perennial disadvantage
Born with 90 per cent hearing impairment, many felt life did not have much in store for Tasleema Jan in the distant village of Charar-e-Sharif in Badgam district of Jammu and Kashmir. But Tasleema never gave up. She worked harder than her contemporaries, went to school, faced several rejections and earned her graduation degree, in the hope that education would one day give her a dignified life.
Since there was no special school in the region, she studied at a regular institute where the absence of facilities made her face myriad problems. Her school friends, teachers and family worked together to aid her understanding of lessons. Despite clearing all her examination in first attempts, she was denied admission in the Valley’s leading college for women. She was, therefore, forced to complete her graduation as a private student. Now, a graduate in Political Science, her next battle is getting employment.
Tasleema shares her plight with several speech and hearing impaired people for whom life has become a dilemma as they appear physically healthy and do not fall in the category of physically challenged people. They face a great deal of risk in sensitive regions like Jammu and Kashmir where security personnel are alleged to have slapped, arrested, tortured hearing and speech impaired people as the latter could not understand the instructions given to them. Crime against deaf and mute women is also on the rise. Thus it becomes crucial to empower them through education.
The only special school for the deaf and dumb in the Kashmir province was established in the Rambagh area in Srinagar. A home for the destitute —Abhinanda — was transformed into a school that catered to the special needs of the hearing and speech impaired people and a vocational training centre for blind persons, under an executive body. The school served the community till 1989 when armed conflict ripped through the State. While priorities of the government changed, many stake holders gave up their responsibilities. A large part of the school compound was and is still occupied by the security forces. With the teachers opting for an alternative source of income, the students were left in the lurch. Though most of them dropped out, those residing in the school’s proximity stayed back.
After 1998, when shades of conflict started fading, a few staff members reassembled and decided to work again for the educational rehabilitation of the speech and hearing impaired children. But in the absence of resources, the group chose to register the school as a NGO and it is now called Human Welfare Society. Though started as a special school, it is now an inclusive school, which also subsidises the fees of the special children. Recently, 15 children from the school appeared for Class X examinations, only four students passed in all subjects. The failure, however, is reflective of school’s inability to impart quality sign language due to lack of trained teachers. Amid all these drawbacks though, some children, with their parents’ support, are setting an example for their peers. Tasleema, along with Nazia Amin, are two of them.
Nazia and Tasleema are now in a dilemma, wondering as to how to live an independent life with dignity. In a conflict-ridden State where unemployment is a major concern, there is almost no guarantee of jobs for persons like them. It is crucial on the part of the stake holders to draft a feasible policy for the empowerment of disabled people. (Charkha features)