Saksham is a national organisation presently dedicated to the integrated development of visually challenged persons. Soon it is going to start projects for all types of physically challenged persons. Its second national convention is being held in New Delhi from October 31 to November 1. Organiser representative Pramod Kumar spoke to its national general secretary Shri Avinash Sangwai to know the activities of the organisation. After accepting VRS from the Reserve Bank of India six years back Shri Sangwai is fully dedicated to the cause of physically challenged persons. Excerpts:
What is the objective of Saksham and its second national convention?
Samadrishti, Kshamata Vikas Evam Anusandhan Mandal is known as Saksham. It is a national organisation committed to the cause of differently-abled persons. The main objective of our second convention is to educate the workers about the work methods, chalk out future strategies and also to attract the attention of various sections of the society, organisations as well as the government towards the issues of differently-abled people.
We also wish to draw the attention of the people to the issue of Resource Teachers who have been removed from service by State governments. The Central government first stopped grant for them and then the State governments removed them from service. There are about 2,500-3000 teachers in each State and about one-lakh all over the country.
The second most important issue to be discussed at the convention is to educate the people about the cornea donation. There are about 1.6 crore visually challenged people in the country. Those who need cornea transplantation are about one third of it i.e. more than 30 lakh. They can get cornea only from the sighted people. But the rate of cornea donation in our country is very less-about one crore people die in the country every year but only 30,000 donate cornea. Out of this also only 10,000 people get sight after surgery. There is a need of mass awareness among the sighted people for cornea donation so that the maximum number of visually challenged people can get sight. Sri Lanka has successfully resolved this problem. There is common understanding in Sri Lanka that the eye donation has to be done after death. Not a single person is cremated there without eye donation. That is why Sri Lanka exports corneas to 65 countries. About 150 corneas are imported in our country also every day. There is high awareness in Europe about eye donation. They do not sell cornea but they have a special aircraft which is used as an eye hospital. It goes to different developing countries for transplantation of corneas. They also visit India at about eight places and transplant corneas.
What are you doing for it?
Saksham has dedicated one special project for cornea known as Madhav Eye Bank. It has a chain of eye banks in many states. During the birth centenary year of Shri Guruji we decided to have a chain of at least 100 such eye banks. Presently, we have 14 licensed eye banks. Apart from it, there are 30 centres where the cornea are collected. We are committed to the integrated development and rehabilitation of differently-abled people. We do not feel that handicaps are burden on the society. They can also contribute in national development. We have to educate the society about it.
Why have you disowned Drishtihin Kalyan Sangh and started this new organisation as Saksham?
Actually, Drishtihin Kalyan Sangh has not been disowned. There were some limitations under this banner. They are working only for the visually challenged persons. When we toured the country, we realised that there are many organisations working exclusively for visually challenged and there are many other physically challenged persons who also need help. We thought over it for about two years and then decided to float Saksham to work for all types of physically challenged people.
How Saksham is different to other organisations already working in this field?
Integrated thinking towards the development and rehabilitation of differently-abled persons makes us different. Other organisations conduct only a few types of activities. They do not think in totality. We study the problems of the people and then find ways to solve them. The development of ‘Audio Book Reader’ has been done under this total rehabilitation plan only.
What are the major activities of Saksham?
For initial three years we have decided to work only for visually challenged persons. Then the focus will shift on different activities. We have Madhav Eye Bank chain for cornea transplantation. Since seventy per cent of the visually challenged people belong to low vision category, we have started low-vision aid centres for such people. The ‘low-vision aid instrument’ available in foreign countries costs around Rs 80,000. But in India it costs only Rs 5,000. The low-vision device has resolved many day-to-day problems of such people. The ‘Audio Book Reader’ is also going to bring revolutionary change in the life of visually challenged people.
What is being done for rehabilitation of visually challenged people?
In Hindi rehabilitation means punarvas. We have objection to this word. What is the rehabilitation of those who have not been settled even once? We have to first settle them. That is why we say that there should be emotional, economical and social rehabilitation of such people. Besides the educational activities, we run art groups or bhajan orchestras of such people in Kerala. There are eight such groups there. They get around 150 programmes in a year. They charge Rs 2,500 per hour. They normally earn Rs 5,000 in every function. There is high demand of such people all over the State. This is one of the methods of economic rehabilitation. The second method of rehabilitation is making of incense sticks marketed under the name, Krishna Jyoti. We may say that a visually challenged person is not a burden on the society but their family members at least still have the similar feeling. Most of them do not want their visually challenged members to come home on Deepavali. When such people start earning money their family members too start caring for them. The experiment of running a photocopy machine by visually challenged is being done in Nagpur.
There is three per cent reservation for handicapped people in government jobs. The Chhattisgarh Government has doubled it in the State. Apart from it we have started an experiment in Nashik. We approach various industries and request them to give jobs to the visually challenged people. Such 21 persons have been given jobs through our efforts.
Have you not approached other State governments for it?
We are trying to contact other governments too. We are requesting all the State governments to enhance this reservation from three to six per cent. The Central government too should do it.
Apart from reservation, the visually challenged persons have some other rights too. What are you doing for them?
We have started activities in this regard. We presented a memorandum to Prime Minister and President on October 5 in New Delhi pressing upon various demands of the differently-abled people.
How many visually challenged persons have been given responsibility in the organisation?
Like national executive committee, we have committees at lower level also. We have directed the workers to have at least three physically challenged persons in the committee of 11 people. It should also include at least two women. As the organisation grows we will add other dimensions also. It is not practical to have totally visually challenged persons on all posts. But we have such persons on the post of vice presidents, etc.
In how many states does the Saksham have organisational infrastructure?
Today, we have units in 17 states and efforts are on for starting the work in other states also.
What are your future plans?
First we have to expand the organisational network in all the states. As the network grows the number of service projects too will increase. We are planning to start cyber cafés for visually impaired, bridge course for visually challenged, DTP and data entry job work for physically challenged including visually challenged, recording studio for creation of audio books for visually challenged and physiotherapy, massaging, acupressure centres for visually challenged.
Presently, we have started almost all types of projects that are required for the integrated development of the visually challenged people. We have schools, hostels, providing writers for visually challenged students in examination, providing audio-cassettes, Audio Book Reader, developing books in Braille, etc. We have also organised weddings of about 100 visually challenged youths. Basically, it is only after the wedding that a person is practically settled in life. We organise watching movie and picnic trips also for such people.
Bharat Vikas Parishad is already working in the field of rehabilitation of physically challenged handicapped persons. What is the need of having one more organisation for similar cause?
We want to work helping each other. Bharat Vikas Parishad runs different projects and it does not have any project for visually challenged persons. We are persuading the Parishad to start projects for such people. We do not wish to compete with anyone in this field. There will be no clash of work.