As the private sector grew into a behemoth of popularity and profitability, the public sector’s role was subdued to that of a blind bystander. But does the oncoming of an alternative essentially translate to one retreating from one’s original, oath-driven path? Did poverty vanish or is it that the poor lost their right to attain knowledge?
‘Garibi Hatao’ remained and still remains just a popular slogan; mere words that were too good to be true. In spite of such an idea existing poverty continues to sneak out from every nook and corner; it remained just an idea as the ‘welfare state’ chose to remain paralyzed and continues to do so.
One visit to the deaf and dumb ‘special’ school in Kalkaji, Delhi is enough to see the irreversible damage. The headmaster celebrates silence in an unmistakable proud voice, declaring the school to be quieter as compared to the ‘normal’ schools. Some teachers, on the other hand, discussed the problems they face in striving to communicate as large chunks of the duration of classes are in fact wasted in waving their arms in front of the students’ faces to get hold of their fleeting attention. Their despondency in dealing with some not so ‘normal’ students was felt in each word that they uttered.
However, a peep into the classrooms narrates a story similar to that of any other ‘normal’ school. The extensive hand gestures used by children behind their teachers’ backs, the borrowings and fights, the jokes and pranks among the impish learners, are not unlike other students around the world. Then who are we to dictate the definition of normal? Why do we feel the need to tag these students as ‘special’ or ‘disabled’? A large number of people may claim that the problem is solved by adopting the term ‘differently-abled’. But it also serves as another tag that alienates ‘them’ from ‘us’. They drift farther away with some people continuously reminding them of being different in rather unamicable and often even antagonistic manners.
There is a visible lack in infrastructure with bricks being used as window stoppers, insufficient ventilation with inoperative fans, and black boards that remain ineffectual due to the complete absence of chalks. The boundary of the school’s backyard is scrappy, allowing the entry of trespassers on the premises with ease; the practice of recording each entry at the front gates then merely feeds irony. The teachers further complained of irregular pays and extensive workload, the stress apparent on their faces. They are also expected or rather compelled to distribute dresses among the students and organise events, which seemingly interferes with their work. Irony abounds as it were the students who taught their teachers the art of communicating in sign whereas some teachers even confessed of being ill-equipped to deal with children with special needs.
The children with special needs are given even lesser attention. Their lives are made harder by reminding them of the differences. The support needed is absent and the promises of help and assistance have been long broken. How will the children then compete in this rapid, unicellular world? Will they be able to abridge the ever widening gap between the ‘normal’ and the ‘different’?
Charlotte Massey is a student of B.EL.Ed at Jesus and Mary College, Delhi University. The views expressed are personal.