Published: 25th November 2017
These people are bringing Kashmiri students blinded by pellets back to school. Here's how
The students in the valley have grown up seeing the terror and have even lost their eyes to it but the dedicated members of National Association for the Blind want to bring the light back
It's been more than a year since headlines like, '14 percent of pellet gun victims are below 15', '500 students lost their vision in the attack' and 'Pellet guns shattering the young dreams' have surfaced in the news. And not a bit of this has been exaggerated — there are students who dropped out because after they lost their vision, there are families who have abandoned their kids to avoid the burden and there are students who cut their wrists to escape the brutal reality. To top that, Jammu and Kashmir have over 3.6 Lakh disabled, out of which 66K are blind, according to the 2011 census.
In a situation like this where several youth have given up on their dreams, there are a few who haven't laid down their weapons — members of National Association for the Blind (J&K Chapter), an NGO founded in 2010, have put their heart and soul into helping the student-victims of pellet guns attacks so that they get back to school and get on with life.
The larger cause: The members have put their heart and soul into helping the student-victims of pellet guns attacks so that they get back to school and get on with life
The idea is to promote inclusive education for the visually impaired and clearly, the volunteers are not leaving any stone unturned. From visiting the houses of students in Baramulla. Anantnag, Srinagar, Kupwara and Bandipora, to convincing them and their parents to escorts them to school where they train them, braille teachers associated with the NGO have tried everything to get the students back to school. And they have succeeded to a certain extent. Their biggest and recent victory is Insha Mushtaq — the face of the pellet victims of 2016 — finishing her X board exam recently.
However, for Javid Ahmed Bhat, General Secretary and one of the teachers at the NGO, every child is equal. "We have 150 kids to train, out of which 10 are pellet gun victims," he said. But for the pellet gun victims, training comes second. There is a psychological hurdle that has to be crossed before that. For instance, who would believe that Insha, who has just finished her Board exams, once refused to even pick up the Braille script?
"She was not ready to accept the fact that she was blind. She wanted to carry her older books to school, read like the older times. Not just her, all the students who were blinded by the attack refused to acknowledge their unfortunate disability," Bhat recalls.
While Bhat admits that it was very natural for a teenager to react that way and live in denial, he admits that it was extremely painful to see the mental trauma these kids go through. "Members of the NGO and the teachers tell these students to quit writing so that they adapt to the new format but it is indeed painful to see them that helpless," he said.
That's where the battle begins. "We select the kids from the valley yearly. We get medical certificates issued and start convincing the parents to send them back to the school. We talk to them about how their condition is different and how they can become self-reliant by beating all odds," Bhat begins to explain the process.
"It takes a lot of counselling at home and school where we tell them to stay strong and think about the future. Only after this, we begin the actual training process where the kid takes another six months to adapt to the new format," he said. Appreciating the government's efforts towards inclusiveness in the valley, Bhat said that they prefer students from the same school to pitch in and be scribes for the blind students.
Thankfully, these challenges were shortlived in front of the grit of the students, teachers and workers at the NGO. About 50 out of 150 students, who were adopted for training by the NGO, have finished their training and are equipped to live a better life.
Many students trained by the NGO, including Insha, have given the 10th board this year and the members of the NGO can't wait for the results. "Pass ho jaegi, insha allah," (She will pass with flying colours, if God wills)
Bhat, who is trained to tackle students with other disabilities wants to give his time for the blind because he feels that is the need of the hour. "We are trying to frame a computer training programme for the students during the winter vacations. I know they will do well," he concludes on a hopeful note.
INSHA MUSHTAQ'S JOURNEY
Insha Mushtaq thought her life is over after she lost her eyesight during the Pellet gun attacks in 2016. But Muzzafar Bhat and Naveed Mir of the national Association for the Blind NGO didn't want to give up on her. Muzzafar recalls the schedule, "It was the most hectic job I have been on till date. She was not ready to study. She was not motivated. To get her ready for the exam was a big deal. I felt like I have built a building from scratch."
Apart from training her, there was another challenge that Muzzafar had to face. "I had to cover the three-hour long distance between Ananthanath and Shopion to reach her home twice a week but I was imperative to make her attend the exams," he says.
Where's the hope: Insha Mushtaq thought her life is over after she lost her eyesight during the Pellet gun attacks in 2016
"I used to convert all the lessons into an audio book for her. I have worked with blind students but late-blinds face more problems than the ones who are adjusted since childhood. Insha was 16 when she lost her vision and she was continuously on medication that affected her moods too. So, it was very difficult to make her concentrate," Muzzafar said.
But he had tricks for that as well. "We used to start by asking her for tea or just a random conversation. She needed to trust me before she could allow me to teach her. And after opening up a bit, she used to sit with us and repeat the lessons" he said.
After a year of to and fro and innumerable hurdles, victory waved at Muzzafar and Naveed when Insha thanked them for believing in her more than her parents and school. "I am glad that I could because she is such a brilliant child who would have lost her dreams inside the four walls," Muzzafar said.