COIMBATORE: She is an ordinary woman fighting against all odds to achieve the extraordinary. Her inspiration: her mentally challenged daughter.
R. Eswari was born into a poor family. Her father, a freedom fighter, instilled in his two daughters that working for the poor was the noblest of virtues. However, Eswari never got the opportunity to put the advice into practice as she was unable to continue beyond her SSLC due to financial constraints. Also her early marriage did not give her a philanthropic bent of mind.
But, unfortunately, her mentally challenged daughter served as her motivation to do something for society. Today, that motivation has become a passion.
Left to fend for herself after her husband deserted her once he knew that the baby he had sired was mentally challenged, Ms. Eswari joined the nearby mill as a worker leaving the baby in her mother’s care. Even there she joined various associations to raise her voice against the rights that were denied to women in work place. She rose to be a representative in the district and later the State level.
She went on working and taking care of her baby, who never grew up mentally, till 2003 when her mother said something that brought her out of her reverie of working for the rights of women. “How long will you continue working for women’s rights? When will you start doing something for your daughter, her future and people like her,?” her mother asked.
She immediately quit her job. With the Rs. 3.5 lakh she got from her voluntary retirement, she decided to do something useful. She started off by taking a survey of mentally challenged children in the Thudiyalur area. She found there were nearly 70 children in Appanaickenpalayam alone. “Some of them were living the lives of animals, sleeping in the mud and being abused by stone-throwing children. In 2005 I took a place on rent for Rs. 3,000 a month and hired a vehicle to pick up the children everyday from their homes and bring them to the rented place. I used to keep them throughout the day, give them food and engage them in play activities and drop them back in the evening,” says Ms. Eswari.
She continued to do this for two years. Slowly her money started depleting. With the help of the Thudiyalur Panchayat president, she got two small rooms in a government building. She started looking outside for help. But, in vain. Some helped, while others mocked. Some made wrong advances. Those made her turn to the government for help.
But, since her special school had only such infrastructure that an old government building could boast of, various official departments that she approached were helpless in recognising her school for any kind of grant or as a non-Governmental organisation.
Today, the strength of her school has dropped from 25 to 10. She can no longer afford to pick up the children because she has no vehicle. Only those who can walk to the school do so. With great difficulty she continues to pay the special educator Rs. 3,000 a month to conduct classes.
“I do not want to give up as the children eagerly look forward to coming here and it is also a big relief for parents who can use the opportunity to take up some employment knowing that the child is in safe hands. A mentally challenged person, however old, will continue to be a child throughout the life. It is a life-time commitment for the parents who cannot leave them on their own,” she says.
Ms. Eswari can be contacted at the Special School for Physically Handicapped and Mentally Challenged Children, 84, Government Building, near Aravan Kovil, Thudiyalur; or on 94427-34214 / 97897-29129.