PROFILE K.Selvaraj has endured taunts and rebukes to emerge as a leading worker for the welfare of the visually impaired in Tiruchi. Deepika Muralidharan meets him

Dressed in a simple white shirt and black trousers, a pen in his shirt pocket and carrying a folder of papers, K.Selvaraj seems an ordinary man, except for the distinctive blue cap that he sports.

Akin to that blue cap that distinguishes him from the others, Selvaraj is unique. He is a man with a mission, to restore vision to the visually impaired, by propagating the cause of eye donation and motivating people toward it.

“People call me up on a regular basis, saying that there has been a death and the family is willing to donate the eyes of the deceased,” says Selvaraj.

Till date, he has collected 768 pairs of eyes and restored vision to 1536 visually impaired persons.

He is actively involved in restoring vision to visually impaired and also undertakes various welfare measures to help them.

Awarded the title of Tiruchi district’s honorary grief counsellor and eye donation motivator in 2010, Selvaraj’s journey to become what he is today has not been an easy one.

Reaching out

A native of Perambalur district, Selvaraj joined Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) in Tiruchi in 1981 as an electrician. He led a normal life till one fateful day in 1993, when he watched a documentary on the visually challenged on TV. It touched him deeply, inspiring Selvaraj to reach out to the blind.

He took the first step when he learnt of a colleague’s death. When he went to the family home and asked for their consent to eye donation, he was rebuked by them. It took a lot of calm talk and convincing for them to relent.

As months passed, Selvaraj visited every home when he learnt of a death and continued his efforts in spite of being rebuffed. Some people even went to the extent of attacking him and sarcastically calling him the assistant of Yama, the god of death.

Standing his ground

He had to patiently convince them that donating eyes can brighten a visually impaired person’s life.

“I stood my ground as I was determined to bring light to the life of sightless persons,” he said.

After continued attempts, Joseph Eye Hospital Eye Bank recognised his contribution and authorised Selvaraj as a voluntary eye donation motivator, to receive eyes from donors in and around Tiruchi district for corneal transplants.

In 1994, Selvaraj launched a campaign to create awareness about eye donation among the public.

“I faced a lot of problems till 1998, when I realised that I must diversify into other services as well, so that people understood that I am doing social service,” he says.

In the same year he began helping inmates of Rehabilitation Centre for Blind Women in Mannarpuram and also helped Development Association of Visually Handicapped India by donating Braille watches and canes to its members. He conducted competitions among children of Government Girls Higher Secondary School for Blind, Tiruchi.

Gradually, his efforts paid off and people steadily began showing more interest in eye donation. Media support soon followed and helped in creating acceptance among the general public.

Recognition

In 1998, he was made an honorary member of the Lions Club of Tiruverumbur. He was also elected as management committee member of the Indian Red Cross Society.

In 1999, Selvaraj began organising eye camps, distributed stationery, uniforms, books and paying schools fees of children of visually impaired persons.

He began to be closely associated with Organisation for Rehabilitation of the Blind in Tiruchi (ORBIT) and National Federation of the Blind Tiruchi unit.

In 2002, he was given the ‘BHEL Excel Award’ in recognition of his contribution to the welfare of the visually impaired.

In 2007, he received the Best Social Worker award with a gold medal from the government of Tamil Nadu for his services. Last year he was made the co-ambassador for ‘Vision to all – BHEL’s Call’, a social eye donation campaign launched by BHEL.

He has not limited his services to the field of eye donation and has also donated blood more than 37 times on various occasions.

He has also helped the physically handicapped and patients with leprosy.

Through these years, his family was instrumental in supporting him.

“My wife Santhamani has been a pillar of support throughout. She took care of my children and never complained when I couldn’t devote enough time for my family. Without her support I could have never been successful,” says Selvaraj.

When asked about how he manages to get funds for his service, he replies that he has never sought assistance from the government.

The money is mobilised from friends and volunteers from the public.

“My journey towards promoting eye donation will never end. It will continue under the guidance of social institutions and my well-wishers,” he says.