Published: 22nd June 2018
How diff-abled accountant Sunil Jain's Astha is getting special people to vote, play sports and live life
Astha has already helped 180 people to get their voter ID cards in 2014 and they are working to develop wheelchair tennis in India
The word 'Astha' in Hindi stands for undaunted self-belief. And this organisation in Bengaluru, bearing the same name, is helping to instill that kind of self-belief among the differently-abled individuals. "We work to empower people with disabilities to lead a life of complete participation," says Astha's founder Sunil Jain. Founded in 2008, Astha aims to empower every differently-abled person through para-sports, education and by helping them exercise their voting rights. Sunil says his organisation's aim is to help every differently-abled person in the country to live a life of their choice and not be constrained by their disabilities. Sunil, a chartered accountant, has been bound to a wheelchair since he was 18 months old — a result of polio.
"I don't remember walking ever. I had to face a lot of difficulties owing to my disability. I didn't get admission to the schools I wanted, had to change a lot of schools as the authorities wouldn't take responsibility. I studied in a Kannada medium school till class 7 then shifted to English medium, and took up Commerce later on. I also failed a couple of times doing CA. At the age of 32, I realised if I could do something for the disabled and that's how Astha was born," Sunil adds.
Building the 'special' Vote Bank
The organisation believes that people with different abilities have as much responsibility to their lives and society as anyone else and hence it becomes necessary for them to actively participate in the political affairs of our country. "During elections, we enable these individuals to go out and get their voter id cards, choose their own leaders and make the polling booth accessible," says Sunil.
Jugalbandi: Astha is exploring the possibilities of integrated activities
Play together at Sports Central
Astha has been conceptualising and initiating the building of an ACADEMY FOR EXCELLENCE AND RESEARCH IN SPORTS FOR the DIFFERENTLY-ABLED in or around Bengaluru to produce world-class athletes and sportspersons to participate in the Japan Olympics in 2020. "Sports is a great enabler. They can overcome their physical barriers and come out with a lot of confidence, interact with people. It also helps to alter other people's perceptions when they see a blind person swimming or a wheelchair-bound person playing tennis. This will create a perception that these people can also work hard and be competitive, thus leading to an inclusive environment," says Sunil.
The organisation is also exploring the possibilities of integrated sports. The context of this idea of having integrated sports is that unless people with and without bodily disabilities come together for a common purpose, we human beings will never perceive what people with disabilities go through. "We used the concept of jugalbandi, borrowed from music, in which two people from different domains come together and perform. The purpose of such an initiative was mainly interaction, and we explored this with the help of performing arts, sports, and I must say the response was overwhelming," adds Sunil.
In 2012, Astha organised a 'jugalbandi' with a mouth painter and a normal artist. Sunil says it took one year to convince them both to work on the same canvas. "So the problem is, a normal person thinks they would dominate over the person with a disability, but that was not the case when it finally took place, no one had to compromise their talent in any way, and what came out was magical," Sunil explains.
Breaking barriers: Astha is working to develop wheelchair tennis in India
Empowered through education
People with different abilities also have a natural desire to pursue a mainstream profession such a Medicine, Engineering, Chartered Accountancy, Law, Journalism, Teaching, Sports, Performing Arts etc, rather than just focusing on rehabilitation training or vocational training to earn their livelihood. Astha is helping at least 25 differently-abled students to complete professional education of their choice and passion in the next four to five years. "Before July 2017, there was no place to capture the disability data, now Form 6A has been amended and you can submit the data. We are trying to enable them to pursue professional education. This year in February, 6 successful people with disabilities who have achieved great lengths academically, chartered accountant, engineers came in to motivate and tell their story - 180 students in Karnataka attended a program with their parents where we told them that they can look into conventional jobs and not just limit themselves to vocational training," says Sunil.
Astha is conducting a scholarship and mentorship program. Sunil himself mentors two people currently, to be chartered accountants- one person has 75 per cent cerebral palsy, and the other has 90 per cent visual impairment. Sunil says their main challenge is funding. "We get our funds mostly through personal donations. In the last two years, corporates have started donating. We are looking out for someone who can take up our projects completely for a year or two and that would really help us."