Reminiscences of the Chairman

After establishing Astitva on 6th of September 1981, our minds were filled with innumerable thoughts…. What next? Lots of things yet to be done! Setting up a school for the mentally retarded was just one of the milestones we had envisioned. Still many more ideas were just on paper….a school for the deaf and mute, a hostel for the mentally retarded,workshops to productively engage the grown up children …and the list was unending.

We all resolved to bring our dreams into reality. No hurdle was big enough to cross. Late Major Kale, other colleagues and I worked tirelessly and with complete dedication. In 1994 Major Kale passed away and in him I lost an outstanding, caring and able colleague. Mr. S.P.Shinde and Principal Ms. Radhika Gupte quietly stepped in to shoulder more responsibilities and have been my associates since then.

We wished to encourage the parents to send their children to our school where they could socialize and experience an open environment without feeling embarrassed of their disability. We were keen to ensure that the parents got rid of negative mindset about their disabled children or place the blame on destiny. Our motive was to counsel and guide the affected parents, help their children to socialize, help their rehabilitation. We envisioned a change in the mindset of our society, replacing sympathy by love towards the disabled and retarded. Our aim was to assist the government understand their problems and provide them with facilities.The management geared up to embrace the daunting task by blending emotional and practical aspects. Today we experience a sense of fulfillment of our most coveted dream.

Being a Doctor, I have experienced very closely the plight of the families having a handicapped child. We don’t have a handicapped child in our family but in my 33 years of medical profession, I have seen around 600 families having a handicapped child, 400 of them associated with our school at present.

The state of disability can be attributed to the disorder in the functioning of our body organs. The disability can be congenial (since birth) or developed later in the body at any stage of life. All the aspects of disability are discussed in various articles on this website. The problems of the disabled do not remain restricted to the affected individual but also encompass the parents, close relatives and the society at large. We need to give proper consideration to these three sections – parents, relatives and society while finding an apt solution for the disabled.

The nature of problems faced by physically handicapped, blind, deaf and mute and mentally retarded is not the same. Therefore most of the organizations in this field focus only on one of the above categories. Astitva school, however, deals with two categories i.e. Deaf and mute and mentally retarded. Like most of the organizations for the disabled, Astitva too aims at enabling the disabled to be physically and financially independent.

We have noticed that all the sections of the society – the rich and the poor, the literate and illiterate, young and old do play some part in the growth of institutions like Astitva. Our people try to help the needy and helpless reflecting the well cherished Indian culture.I am however a little worried about the outlook of some parents. A mentally retarded child is the happiest. Adequate food and a bit of pampering generally keep these children happy. The parents though suffer a lot.

Most of us provide all the facilities to our normal child - arrange special coaching classes, take him to a doctor at the hint of some problem, offer good clothes and much more. We give hefty donations for his school admission and tolerate arrogant school management. The same parents treat their disabled child in a different manner. Leaving all the responsibility of their disabled child to us, they show absolute apathy. Not all the parents but majority of them show this discriminatory behavior. Compared to normal children, the disabled need more attention, love and pampering by parents. They may have to spend more money on their disabled child than a normal one. This will enable the disabled and their parents derive maximum benefit from institutions Astitvaand the society.

Following the footsteps of the developed countries, India is now more conscious than it was three decades ago about the problems of the disabled. While that is a source of great satisfaction, the government departments dealing with the issues of the disabled are inefficient and not up to the mark. Delay and negligence can be observed in many matters. The people at the helm of the organizations like Astitva indirectly work for the cause of social welfare, reducing the burden on the government. And they do it voluntarily, managing their busy schedules and without expecting any monetary returns. There is a shortage of people willing to put in voluntary efforts for these organizations. In these circumstances, the least we can expect is a little urgency on the part of government to help and remove all the hurdles of these organizations. There are of course positive aspects of the role of the government. Barring a few limitations, the Central and State governments are doing an excellent job of providing financial assistance to these social organizations.Without this support we wouldn’t have succeeded in our mission.

Prudence requires that there should be only one school for the disabled in an area having 4 to 5 lacs of population. Instead of too many schools in one area, it’s advisable to integrate all the small schools with inadequate facilities into a big school which is well equipped. This will not only benefit the students but also save considerable resources for the government.

Financial assistance for the construction of buildings and facilities is generally not provided by the government. Since this is huge, promoters have to work hard to collect donations and they cannot devote enough time to routine and important administrative matters. Some years ago, I had suggested to director social welfare department, pune that even if we accept the fact that these special schools require more teaching and non-teaching staff compared to other schools, the existing staff is in excess. The government should facilitate the reduction in excess staff so that the money thus saved can then be utilized for the development of organization premises. The government should act on its own without us asking for it. But we still await that day. I sincerely feel that all such organizations should come together to pursue this matter. It is also necessary for the government to provide one full time doctor for every school having more than 100 students.This will facilitate routine medical help for all students. We haven’t succeeded in this matter in spite of our efforts. We hope that the government will realize the importance of this matter in near future and act accordingly. Howerver, Astitva has appointed a doctor for institutions children by payment through the organization, without government aid.

I feel that promoters of all the schools in a certain area should meet at least twice a year to discuss problems related to the disabled and obstacles faced by such organizations. This will certainly help exchange of their experiences benefitting all the organizations. One State level meet should be held by the government every year. The meet should be attended by all senior government officials and two officials of the school availing grant by government. This will facilitate speedy implementation of the decisions taken unanimously in the meet. 

As a person reaches 70 years of age, he/she becomes handicapped suffering from inability to walk, losing hearing, loss of memory, lack of coherence in speaking etc. I feel that ‘old age is the real disability.’ With increase in the life span, proportion of old people in our country is slowly on the rise. With the gradually decline of joint family tradition, the problems of old people will multiply in near future. In all likelihood the number of disabled in our society on account of old age is likely to increase rather than those genuinely disabled. Having feared this, we felt the need to start a home for old age within Astitva, but it has so far not taken a concrete shape.

Society as well as the government have helped us a lot in the past and will continue to do so in future. Our assurance is that we will never get tired in performing our duties.

My colleagues offered their help in this mission. Because of the unanimity of all decisions, our organization made a remarkable progress. As the Founder Chairman of this organization, I am deeply indebted to all the teachers and non-teaching staff who selflessly serve the cause.