The music class was over. While walking past lazily through the corridor, I heard the strumming of the sitar, coming from one of the music rooms. Curious, when I peeped in, I saw a boy playing the sitar all by himself, as if immersed in his music. I went in, sat beside him, and quietly took some pictures. He was completely oblivious of my presence. When he stopped, I asked him to play again. It was then, as if coming out of his trance, he smiled gently and started to play another piece. But deprived of sight, his smile was not directed at me, it seemed to me that he smiled for himself.
Most of the people, who suffer from blindness or other sight related problems, have conditions that are avoidable with proper treatment and nutrition. But lack of proper facilities for eye care and acute malnutrition causes many to lose eyesight during childhood.
India has one of the largest populations of visually challenged, mostly from very poor families that cannot afford expensive treatment or education, relying mostly on institutes that provide highly subsidized, if not free education. Still there are very few institutes that cater to the special needs of these individuals. Nearly non-existent government support and lack of social awareness makes the job of these institutes even harder. Not only do the schools have to provide their students with basic education, but also train and prepare them to cope in the outside world, so that they can have a normal respectable social life. But with very few trained personnel qualified to do this job, many of these institutes are finding it very hard to cope with the pressure of an ever increasing number of students.
Editor’s Note – Anil Cherukupalli
The statistics are damning. India has the largest number of blind people in the world- over 15 million out of which three million are children. The vast majority of them struggle to be accepted by a largely uncaring society around them. In spite of often overwhelming odds, many of them are determined to learn skills and knowledge at special institutes. Tuhin’s photo essay documents the lives of such students at one such institute. The photos offer a glimpse of the progression that the students undergo in this process of education. They come in a little lost, unsure, lacking in self confidence and slowly through guidance and sheer hard work they start to explore and learn about the world around them. Eventually, they move on to acquire more complex skills and knowledge, learning to read, type, use machines and playing musical instruments.
It is a journey of self discovery and the powerful photos seem to reflect that, showing the students not as weak people worth only our pity but as human beings who want to be equal members of our society. It is this desire to learn and excel that shines on the faces of these students. One can only hope that more such visually challenged can benefit through such specialized institutes. Lack of vision is no longer a debilitating curse and in most cases, it can be avoided if proper medical care is provided at the right time. But for the millions who live day in and day out in a world without light, all they need is a helping hand to enable them to stand and walk towards their dreams.