Swetha A, who is eight years old, was standing observing teenage girls play badminton. She was wearing a purple t-shirt and yellow-blue plaited shorts. Her face was flat and round, eyes almond shaped slanting upwards, flat nose, mouth and ears smaller than usual. Suddenly a boy lifted her and took her inside her house. When the boy returned, he revealed himself to be the brother of Swetha. He said he had taken her into her house as she is not allowed to talk to others. The boy seemed ashamed of his sister.
Her parents, Akhil H and Manjula said that Swetha is kept locked within the four walls of the house at all times. They weren’t happy to show her existence to the outside world. “She looks abnormal and is slower than other children. She can’t communicate,” said Akhil who believes his daughter is a punishment for the sins committed by either him, his wife or his daughter in his or their previous birth. He couldn’t think of others possibilities for his daughter’s condition.
People of Kushtagi taluk in Koppal district are unaware of the various mental illnesses and other genetic disabilities that could occur in a human being. The taluk lacks awareness on disabilities and often seclude them from the society. The differently-abled children are ignored and forgotten, like Swetha who is suffering from Down’s syndrome.
Disability in India
As per the census conducted by the government in 2011, in India around 2.68 crore people are disabled making 2.2 percent of the population. This consists of 56 percent males and 44 percent females. Around 69 percent of the disabled live in rural India.
Kushtagi taluk still struggles to provide education for differently-able children. Schools for visually challenged or physical disability are not found within the district. Special schools for mentally disabled children are out of question in the taluk. Lack of schools for such children deprives them from basic right to education. Swetha was never sent to school as her education was labeled ‘useless.’
The previous census also revealed that among the disabled population in the country, 1.2 crore are illiterate while 1.4 crore are literate. Among the literature, only 9.8 percent have completed graduation. Around 20 percent have studied below primary, 25 percent below middle school, 17 percent below matric secondary and 24 percent are below graduate.
Literacy level among the disabled in India (aged 0-19).
The census also revealed that in India, over 78 lakh people make up the young-disabled population. Among them, 17 percent are visually impaired, 20 percent are hearing impaired, 8 percent are speech impaired, 7 percent are mentally retarded and 1 percent suffer from mental illness. People suffering from movement disability is 13 percent. 8 percent have been diagnosed with multiple disabilities and 21 percent are categorized as others.
Population of the disabled in India (aged 0-19).
According to the recent data provided by taluk office, In Koppal district, 144 children are suffering from blindness, 113 are hearing impaired, 242 are speech impaired, 28 have mental retardation, 378 are suffering from mental illness and 313 have multiple disabilities. They are aged from 5 to 13.
Population of disabled in Kushtagi (aged 5-13).
The Social Stigma
Ishub Mohammed Shakeed Ahmed is 14 but spent all his life inside the house lying on the floor. He has been bed ridden since he was born. He cannot stand or sit and his limbs are always trembling. His hands are twisted upwards and his legs have been bent near the knees. He cannot speak and lies smiling at everyone while his limbs keep shaking uncontrollably at all times.
His father Raja Sab Hussain Mohammed said that though he was enrolled in the government school but he never attended any classes. He has graduated till eighth grade as per the Karnataka government scheme but did not join high school after that. His father said “What’s the use of making him study and go to school? What is he going to achieve with it? On his education, he mentioned that the teachers used to come once a month to their house but didn’t teach him anything.
Most parents of the disabled are not ready to send their children to schools as they see it as useless and an unnecessary expense for the family and child. The society, including ones as important as the parents give up on their disabled child’s education. Parents clearly ignore the child’s right to education. Another scenario is parents making the child’s treatment and health a priority over education, which was the case with Subash.
Subash Halli, attending GLPS government school in Sandeep nagar, Kushtagi, is 6 years old and speech impaired. He doesn’t mingle with his other classmates and places himself in a corner not joining others who are sitting in a drawn circle representing class teams. Subash struggles to communicate with classmates and lacks behind in academics as well. He cannot read or write. Subash sits in class all day staring at others.
Subash’s father Mana Halli said “There are no special schools for him in Kushtagi. The nearest school is in another district. We can afford it but it’s too far. I know regular schools don’t have the things he requires but at least he is getting educated.”For Kushtagi, the nearest school for disabled children is in Gangavathi taluk which is 68 kilometres away, making the journey two hours long. That school is only helpful for deaf and dumb children. It does not have any facility for the visually challenged, physically challenged or mentally challenged.
The head master of Subash’s school, Kalaka Malesh agreed that a regular school is not going to help the child and will only worsen his self-confidence. He said “I take special classes for Subash as he is not trained to live normally and doesn’t have hearing aids, making it tough for him and us.”Sharada M. class teacher of Subash said “He knows I am calling him and usually speaks with gestures. He reacts to what others say but doesn’t speak in return.” She added “He struggles to study in class. He is not able to read or write because he can’t listen and repeat it. The school is also helpless and can’t provide him proper education.”
One Step Closer
Several education schemes for disabled children have been introduced by the government of Karnataka and India which are not being implemented in Kushtagi taluk or Koppal district. The Karnataka government had introduced a Scholarship scheme in which education is provided to a disabled child for 10 months, for each academic year. A financial compensation is also given to the child from the government. The compensation scheme is as listed below:
|Class 1 to 5||Rs. 50|
|Class 6 o 10||Rs. 100|
|Class 11 and 12||Rs. 150|
|UG Degree||Rs. 200|
|Professional course||Rs. 250|
|Master’s Degree||Rs. 300|
Any child with above 40 percent of disability, with passing marks in previous exam and resides in Karnataka is eligible for the scholarship. The child must provide Disability certificate, previous year mark sheet and resident proof to attain the scholarship.
As per the Census 2011, the number of disabled children in Koppal district aged 0 to 19 is 12,268. The number of scholarships given in Koppal in the year 2016-17 by the government is 237 and for the year 2017-18 are 199 only.
Mohammad Rafiq, District Coordinator for the Disabled states that lack of awareness on scholarship programs is what deprives disabled children from education. “Many disabled children are doing academically well but their education is stopped to save money. Many don’t know about the scholarship schemes and don’t apply for it. Some back off thinking they don’t qualify the criteria needed for the scholarships. The only requirement is that the child must be disabled.”
When asked about the less number of scholarships provided per year, Basavaraj Ganiger, Urban Rehabilitation Worker said the government decides the students and not the staff. “They try to choose students from the worst background for the scholarships. The budget of the scholarship is also decided by the government.” He stated that the social stigma on the disabled community restricts the people from getting not just education but basic requirements. He believes that people are ashamed to identify themselves as disabled, like Dura Lakshmi.
Dura Lakshmi, who is dumb and deaf, cannot approach the government for any benefits as she never got herself verified as a disabled child. She mostly uses ‘reading of lip movement’ technique to understand and communicate. Her parents though send her to school, are ashamed to get her identified as ‘hearing impaired.’ In her case, Laxmi cannot be verified as disabled as she her ability to read lip movements makes her fall under the ‘disabled below 40 percent’ category. She can still approach the government for scholarships and financial compensation once she meets a medical expert for disability and can gets a confirmation of being hearing impaired.
Progress on the way
Education schemes such as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan are being implemented in Kushtagi. It is helping children get enrolled in schools and get the necessary education.
Sarva Shiksha Abiyan, the most common education scheme for disabled provides free education for the disabled children aged from 6 to 14. This scheme was launched to provide them equal opportunities at education. 549 disabled children have been identified to being enrolled in this scheme, in Kushtagi taluk. 320 boys and 229 girls are enrolled in several government schools in the taluk. Around 88 percent (488) of these children are in school. 87 percent (281) boys and 90 percent (207) girls attend the school regularly.
Under the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abiyan, 30 boys and 27 girls have been enrolled in schools and all of them are attending school.
For the year 2019-20, around 490 students are being considered for the Inclusive Education (IE) for standard 1 to 8 and 60 for standard 9 to 10. Inclusive Education is a method for educating the ‘special needs’ children in which the children attend regular school and spent most of their time with non- special needs children.
S Gousiya Attar, District Education officer at the Block Resource office said that a total of 549 students have been identified as Children with Special Needs (CWSN) and all of them have been enrolled into school by the government schemes. “We have been constantly working on the education for children. We go home to home and enroll children into schools. We have also decided to provide them with aids and requirements they will need. The new Action Plan for this year promises to be useful for our special children,” she said.
She also claims that 222 schools out of 325 have been made “barrier free” for the special children since 2013. One factor to notice here is that many schools have been declared barrier free but only contain the facility of ramps for the disabled. Several disabilities are considered for the government schemes and the necessities of each disability are ignored.
The different disabilities identified under the scheme extend from Blindness to Parkinson’s disease.
Different disabilities identified by the state government.
A Bunch of Difficulties
Shilpa Shivappa, 13, studying at GHPS, Vidhyanagar in Kushatgi is suffering from mental retardation. She sits quietly and stares at the Hindi book, not able to understand what’s happening in class. The teachers struggle to communicate with her. The students offer her help but she refuses them. The teachers in the school have given up as they don’t know how to approach her and help her. Sharanappa M Hebbuli, teacher at the school said “We have given up on her. We don’t know how to deal with children like her. We just let her come and sit in class. She doesn’t write exams but we still pass her and promote her.”
Lack of trained teachers for disabled at schools is also another issue for disabled children. The children struggle with no care taker, making their education being ignored and worsened. Mohammad Rafiq, District coordinator for disabled stated “We are working with the staff at Gangavathi Special School. They usually come every few months to Kushtagi and train the dumb and deaf children. Mental retardation and other disabilities still struggle. We have been trying to get teachers for them but many do not come as the number of disabled children is comparatively less than other areas.”The DEO, Gousiya also agreed that many teachers have not been trained to handle the disabled children.
Taluk Education Officer, Chanpasappa M said that the government must take initiatives to make special schools for the disabled. “I follow the orders of the government. They know the problem exist and will surely work on it. A proper budget for the education of the disabled children and for special schools will be created soon.” He believes that only the once from the disabled community understand the extent of the issue and work on it. Eramani agrees to it.
Chandrashekar Eramani gets ready for office and steps out of his house with a walker to support his right leg which is bent, ‘labeling’ him disabled. He doesn’t know the reason for his deformity. “Many ridiculed me in school for my leg. I just thought I am lucky as I got educated. There were cases worse than me who never attended school, I was determined to help them and make them independent like me.”
Eramani now, is the Multiple Rehabilitation Worker for the disabled at Kushtagi Hospital. He provides counseling and helps people accept their disability and give them mental strength. He works on spreading awareness on disabilities and their rights. He believes he acts as the bridge between the government and the disabled public. “We do a lot of work such as providing identity cards for disabled, provide education program for disabled children, free checkups and more.”
On education he said “We have a government scheme which helps provide disabled children with education. Teachers from government school come and put extra effort for these children once every month.” Scholarships from fifth standard to master’s degree are given by the government and the budget for the scholarship is given according to the district. A compensation of thousand rupees is also given to the children getting scholarships.
The government has also made it compulsory for schools to have ramps for disabled. “We have been slowly working on the schools and infrastructures to make them disabled friendly. The government gives us budget every year to build and provide equipment needed in school campus for children. We use them to provide hearing aids, walkers, glasses and assistance for visually impaired and more,” said Eramani.
On lack of schools he said “It is sad that we don’t have any special schools here and no one aims to build one. Most taluks are considered insignificant and the people there are left to survive. Normal people struggle on a daily basis. It’s gets worse for minorities like the disabled. The government might come up with special budget for people like us. Still, I don’t see a hopeful future for them or me even now.”
K S Reddy, General Surgeon at Kushtagi taluk for 27 years said “Most disabilities could have occurred due to other reasons. Maybe the water consumed is toxic in villages. Mostly they would not have taken vaccines and having deformities. We cannot come to a conclusion as of now.”
Recently, there have been issues with the polio vaccines provided by the government. Pulse Polio program in Karnataka which was to cover 66,77,323 children below the age of five was put on hold and then postponed to March 10 this year. Several people in Kushtagi taluk believe that vaccines will induce the disease rather than cure it and hence choose not to get vaccinated.
According to NFHS, the Infant Mortality rate in India is 41 deaths per 1000 children. An increase of one percent is seen for children receiving no vaccination. The vaccines provided to children are not safe. Union health ministry said 10,612 children have died due to side effects of vaccine since 2008, among which Karnataka had 439 deaths.
The previous statements have been proven right by Yellama Durugappa who is ten and did not take the vaccine for polio. Her right hand has been bent upwards with her palm resting on her shoulders for the rest of her life. She has been labeled disabled by the doctors and doesn’t have any treatment for it.
The government school she attends states that people from the government hospital come monthly to check the children’s health and to give her treatment. “I do believe that this condition has a solution. Someone just needs to work on it and help me. I want to get rid of this disability and be like others,” she said.
A Ray of Hope
This leaves the disabled children being deprived of basic right that every child deserves i.e. right to education. At the same time, special children are not given the fundamental right to equality as well as freedom. Disabled children are locked inside the houses, restricting them from their potential and skills that could bring changes for the disabled community in the future. Due to this, the illiteracy rate of the nation increases and education standards for disabled goes down. Lack of proper and trained education also deprives the taluk from other future commercial resources that can be provided by the differently-abled individuals. This also leads to loss of skills, intellect, inventions or innovations which could help improve sectors like agriculture, energy resources etc.
Certain NGOs are coming forward to help these children. Association for People with Disability (APD), an NGO also works for the same cause. They believe that every child deserves the Right to Education but the disabled children struggle to get educated as they are not able to pursue it due to various reasons like financial issues, schools not giving admissions and mainly lack of awareness for their education. Laws and schemes for their education are not implemented properly making the situation murkier. Educate of such children is needed for a better future, not only for them but for the nation as well.
Disabled children are hidden from the society and do not get a chance at normal life like others. They are not provided opportunities or platforms to educate themselves or to prove themselves worthy of the education. Hence, we must give them the opportunity to showcase their talent as they contribute to manpower, employment and economy of the nation. They too are part of the society, the nation, the world and should not be estranged from us.
Sources: Government of India, Government of Karnataka.
Info graphics making site: Visme, Venngage.