ByÂ Aniket Doegar:
Chujoo is a 12-year-old girl with multiple mental and physical disabilities. Hailing form a remote village in Himachal Pradesh, Chujoo’s parents settled in Shimla almost 10 years ago, in the hope that their daughter will get better treatment and a better shot at education and life.
Shimla is a city with a robust schooling culture, primarily set up by the colonial masters through the famous convent institutions. But unfortunately, all these schools in their rich history and past, some spreading over 100 years have only catered to the elite and privileged. Children like Chujoo have found no place in such premier institutes.
Examples and stories like these prompted a group of parents of children with mental disabilities to start a small day cum boarding school in Shimla in 2002, called Udaan. Gradually through community participation and support Udaan has increased its efforts in spreading awareness and executing interventions for the differently abled. By 2007-08, Udaan was the nodal agency of the Ministry of Social Empowerment in Himachal Pradesh and had a staff of trained and qualified special education teachers catering to over 60 children in the age group of 3-18.
In India, children with disabilities have been given the right to free and compulsory education under Chapter V of the disabilities Act. The Right to Education (2009), for the first time included this under their charter under Clause 3(2) of the Act. All government and recognized private schools are now supposed to have at least 2-3 seats reserved for kids with disabilities — physical and mental, in all classrooms. It also mandates each school to have trained and qualified special educators for such kids along with adequate infrastructure required to ensure inclusiveness and equity in schools.
Apart from this, in another landmark provision under the Act, Section 12(1) (c) of the Act mandates all private schools to have 25% seats reserved for economically and socially underprivileged families. Kids with disabilities form a part of socially underprivileged under this clause. Unfortunately, the Act fails to specify any particular minimum number for such kids in schools. As a result, schools have used this clause to actually ensure that kids with special needs are not given preference at the time of admission. This has actually led to a lot of schools in not admitting these kids under Clause 3(2) of the Act as mentioned above.
In government schools, teachers have been hired with a degree in special education, but implementation and enrolment is dismal in almost all such schools. Infrastructure is not disabled friendly in most public institutions, including our schools.
All this has affected lives of children like Chujoo. Her special educators have left Udaan for plum government jobs, even though there are hardly any kids with disabilities to be seen in these schools. Sarv Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA), the premier implementation arm of the RTE, which initially used to aid non-profit schools and NGOs like Udaan has stopped the annual aid.
Every year more and more parents bring their children with disabilities to schools like Udaan. A lot of times, they have to go back empty handed. They have tried the government schools, schemes and policies, but that hasn’t given them any hope. The RTE was formed to get every child to school — from all backgrounds and with diverse abilities. On paper it has succeeded with 97% enrolment in primary schools but differently abled kids are suffering. These are real problems, parents are not struggling to find 12 year old boy gift ideas, they are struggling for their kid’s real future.
Gone are the days, when missionary churches under charity treated children with disabilities. Today, it’s the constitutional right of every child to get a free, compulsory and quality education. Probably a little more support, a little more inclusiveness under policy to schools like Udaan can make it happen — a truly inclusive and equitable society!