SUNDAY MAGAZINE

Beyond disability

Inspirational: Rajinder Johar with Preeti.   | Photo Credit: Photo: Madhu Gurung

MADHU GURUNG

Rajinder Johar, a quadriplegic, has made not only his own life meaningful again, but revolutionised those of others similarly disadvantaged.

THE small room is dominated by a white hospital bed. Propped up by pillows and facing the entrance is Rajinder Johar. Frail with a shock of grey beard and hair, his sherry-coloured eyes grab your attention. Brilliant, curious and intelligent, they are his life force. His voice, vibrant, optimistic and warm, envelopes you. An occupational therapist at King George's Medical College, Lucknow, he was just 37 when, trying to save his family from three miscreants who had entered their home with the purpose of looting, he was shot. The bullet at the back of his neck rendered him a quadriplegic for life.

A new life

Twenty-one years later, after his own battle with insecurity, pain, losing a profession he loved while at its peak, he has rebuilt a new life to bring hope, dignity and happiness, by reaching out through a magazine called Voice to his "Family of Disabled" throughout the country. "When I was undergoing rehabilitation I read a lot and one of the articles I read in the Reader's Digest said quadriplegics do not live more than one to two years. I believed I would not survive, so I refused to try anything as I was going to die anyway. Six years passed and I lived on. By then the frenzy of dying and the sadness of losing everything had dimmed. So I thought perhaps I will live six more years so why not make them fruitful. I decided I would use my knowledge as an occupational therapist to start something."Most of the writings on disability were academic and research-bsed, there was no light reading material for the disabled, so that became the niche Johar decided Voice would fill. By advertising with a local cable operator, Johar got himself three volunteers. With an electric typewriter on his lap, he would painstakingly type out pages of poems, interviews, film reviews, disabled jokes, quotations and facts, dictated by volunteers. Borrowing Rs. 1,000 as loan from his elder brother Surender, an engineer, Johar came out with the first edition of Voice.

Turning point

Voice became a turning point, people flocked to him, worried parents with young children struck with disability, or others who became disabled like him through accidents. For everyone, Johar was inspirational; his never-say-die attitude made him a focal point. They shared their thoughts, fears and pain and they formed the Family of Disabled (FOD). For the first four years since Voice went public, Johar had no money to employ anyone for the magazine. He worked through the volunteers and realised that to keep the magazine going he needed to raise money. He decided to sell greeting cards made by disabled people. It proved more difficult than he had envisaged. Disabled artists were difficult to come by, till someone told him of a young woman, Shivani Gupta, in a wheelchair who painted. At 22, Shivani, a Guest Relations Officer at the Maurya Sheraton, New Delhi, met with a road accident that left her in a wheelchair. Shivani admits, "I got a lot of hope seeing the cards being sold. I felt if Mr. Johar could live a life from his bed, so could I." It was to propel her to do her post-graduation and architecture. Today she runs a consultancy helping corporates and public places make their venues easily accessible by the elderly and the disabled.In their quest for discovering disabled artists, FOD also started a yearly painting exhibition at Aparna Art Gallery in New Delhi so they could showcase and even sell their work.

Help at hand

Johar has finally been able to bring in more people to work and today there are nine people who work in the FOD. The FOD also attracted many other people who pitched in. Today the printing of the two bi-annual issues of Voice is entirely paid by Mr. V. Krishnan from Faridabad, whose disabled daughter Rohini was a regular visitor to FOD. The FOD is also funded by the R.C. Malhotra Foundation Trust, the Charity Aid Foundation and individuals.Once Voice got going, Johar began thinking about how else he could use his knowledge to better the lives of the disabled. "Over 90 per cent of the disabled population is uneducated, unskilled and largely belongs to the lower strata of society. It's because I am disabled myself that I know what it is not to be able to provide for your family." Johar became obsessed with trying to come up with a scheme for the disabled that would help them become self-reliant.In 1998, Johar launched Apna Rojgar Yojana. He got NGOs working with the disabled in Delhi to refer people to them. "The scheme helps disabled people get employment, reduces poverty, and mainstreams the disabled." Once the formalities of identification of people are over, an interest free loan is given, not in cash but in goods worth Rs. 3,000 to enable a person start a small enterprise of his or her choice. This embarks them on a journey of self-reliance. Today FOD has reached out to over 284 people and has decided to celebrate when they complete their third century. Already several success stories have resulted from this venture and more are happening. Ashok Kumar, a polio victim, says his life turned around after the Doctor Saheb gave him a soft loan to start his venture making a life-long hope come true. Thanks to FOD, he set up a small paan shop at the Dabri Palam road. Not only has his shop provided him a livelihood, his father and younger brother also pitch in and business is booming. "I earn six times more than the salary I used to earn after 14 hours of work. Every month I am able to keep aside some money for a rainy day."

Ensuring continuity

With his fragile health, Johar agrees that his only fear till recently had been that FOD should not close down after him as people had invested so much trust and hope in him. "I believe in God and destiny and think that he put this same thought in my daughter Preeti's mind, and so she has stepped in and now I have no fear."At 24, Preeti runs the FOD alongside her father. She is his confidante, his hands, mood lifter, besides being the heir of FOD. She admits, "After graduation I wanted to do four years of foreign language and work as an interpreter. Father was not keeping well and so I joined, so that I could take his burden off. But since joining him I think I was meant to do nothing else. I love what I am doing." Together they make a great pair, merging her new, fresh approach with his spirit and ideals. Johar smiles and says, "No one is completely disabled. There are always some faculties left intact and these are like blank cheques. We can encash them as we want." Rajinder Johar & Preeti Johar, B-1/500, Janakpuri, New Delhi-110058. Tel: 91-11-25597328, 41570140. E-mail: >contact@familyofdisabled.org Web: >www.familyofdisabled.org

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