How Chokka Rao has kept visually-challenged youth in Nalgonda from the darkness for 25 years now

The visually-challenged don't need your sympathy. They need education and empathy. Give them that and they will change the world as we know it today, says Nalgonda School for the Blind's Chokka Rao
Students with Chokka Rao | (Pic: Nalgonda School for the Blind)
Students with Chokka Rao | (Pic: Nalgonda School for the Blind)

From our conversation with Chokka Rao, one thing we know for sure is that he is not someone to revel in past glories. When we called him to extend our congratulations on the momentous occasion of Nalgonda School for the Blind turning 25, he humbly and profusely expressed his gratitude and jumped right into the topic. "This year, it will be 75 years since India gained her independence and seven years since Telangana was formed. We keep boasting about the number of schools that we have opened in this span of time, but how many of them are for the blind?" he thunders. We try to steer the conversation towards happier times like the times when he was finally able to establish the NGO Development and Welfare of the Blind in 1996 and then went on to start the hostel in 2005. But he refused to dwell on those for long, probably because he has his eyes firmly set on an inclusive future for all those who are visually-impaired, just like him.

The future, according to him, cannot be so short-sighted.

 Let's get it started in here
Whether Chokka Rao wants to take us down memory lane or not, his journey is well-documented, in fact it's almost the stuff of folklore, in Gollaguda, the area in Nalgonda where the NGO is based. It all started with an NRI donating Rs 8,000 monthly for the visually-impaired kids Chokka Rao used to take care of. You see, he was always inclined towards education and social service. But when this stopped, Chokka Rao decided to start the NGO and eventually the school. They left no stone unturned in finding all the visually-impaired children in Nalgonda, no matter which remote village they would have to journey into to spread the word. Of course, parents were apprehensive, but once they visited the school and hostel, they knew that their children were in safe hands.

Dignitaries at the school | (Pic: Nalgonda School for the Blind)

The hostel called Surdas Bhavan, named after the blind poet Surdas, is spread over 15,000 square feet and has four stories. Each student from the 24 batches of class X students they have had so far has passed out. And till they pass out, they are encouraged to be as independent as they can be so that they develop self-confidence. "We don't keep them beyond class X because they need to experience the society for themselves and see that there is a world beyond our hostel gates, no matter how cruel it might be," says the retired gazetted headmaster. Since then, many public figures like actor Chiranjeevi and former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu have been to the school. Chokka Rao has even met the former President of India late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and the current President, Ram Nath Kovind. But men may come and men may go, but their woes go on forever. Or like Chokka Rao puts it bluntly, "I am grateful for their praise and appreciation, but our donations keep dwindling and in this context, I can't fill the stomach of my children with words."  

The children have acted in movies like Rebel and Love Cycle

How can we help?
Chokka Rao zaps us back to reality by presenting before us a few simple requests he has for the Chief Minister of Telangana K Chandrashekar Rao. A blind school for all the seven zones of this Telugu-speaking state is the first one. "That is the least we can do because day-by-day, the numbers of the visually-impaired are going up," says the educator. Another request is to have a divyang commissioner for the Disabled Welfare Department. "If a women's commission has a woman as their commissioner and a minority commission has someone from the minority groups, how can anyone but a divyang be the commissioner of the department?" he questions vehemently.

The school | (Pic: Nalgonda School for the Blind)

Even those who are pursuing a Diploma in Education-Special Education (Visual Impairment) are becoming regular government school teachers. "Did they get special training for their employment or for our service?" he questions. And since we are on the topic of education, he adds that, in the present scenario, Braille needs to be taught only till class V, after which, English language and Computer skills should be given precedence. "Brailee is still needed, but it's limited. If the visually-impaired want to blend with society and find opportunities for themselves, English and computers are what they need to learn," he emphasises.     

In the year 2014, state-level games for the visually-impaired were conducted in the school premises

"Of course, we still need help to cross the roads and need to be directed towards the washroom and so on, we need your support. But we don't want your sympathy, we want your empathy," says the 62-year-old. Talking about being dependent, he also brings up the Rs 3,000 pension that the disabled get under the Telangana Aasara Pension Scheme. He says that, "We want the government to issue a Government Order (GO) making it mandatory to distribute pensions to those visually-impaired students in school only after they produce 90 per cent attendance certificates from the schools." Clearly, the value he lends to the education of the visually-impaired is because he believes it can go a long way in making them as self-sufficient as they can be. "We feel the strong need to contribute to the nation's progress as well and for that, we need opportunities. To have those opportunities and to be skilled enough to avail them, we need support," he says and rests his case.

It’s all about facts and figures
- 4.8 million in 2019
- 8.8 million blind in India in 2015
- 12 million in 2006-07
- 7.2 million blind people in 1990
- 1986-89 reported that 1.5% of the Indian population (12 million people) was blind
(Credit: The Lancet study, National Blindness and Visually Impaired Survey (2019))

Let's eat | (Pic: Nalgonda School for the Blind)

What's the definition?
- The criteria adopted in 1976 was a person who is unable to count fingers from a distance of six metres
- This lasted for about four decades until 2017, when the metres reduced to three
- This definition was completely in line with WHOs criteria as well

Different kinds of blindness
- Economic blindness: When a person cannot count fingers from a distance of six metres
- Social blindness: Diminution of field of vision to 10 degrees or Vision 3/60 or d
- Manifest blindness:  Just perception of light or vision 1/60
- Absolute blindness: No perception of light
- Curable blindness: Reversible damage by quick management, like in the case of, cataract
- Preventable blindness: That could be preventable  prevented by institution of effective preventive or prophylactic measures
- Avoidable blindness: The total of preventable or curable blindness is referred to as avoidable

For more on them check out   

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