It is tempting to think that blind people of exceptional achievement have been sparsely scattered in time and place; that this is not so is amply illustrated by the biographies recorded in this remarkable book.
For 25 years the All India Confederation of the Blind has been at the forefront of the struggle for the rights of blind people in the sub-continent and far beyond. The right to dignity and self-worth, the right to self-representation, and the right to contribute to society have informed their activism and it is therefore altogether appropriate for the AICB to celebrate its Silver Jubilee by recognizing these outstanding individual contributions to Indian culture and the economy.
Reading these pages, it is as though there has been a special flowering of talent amongst the blind men and women of India, and this in a country which has ever known conditions of harsh challenge and extreme inequality. Even against such odds, many dozens of blind people have performed in extraordinary ways in such varied fields as literature and language, social and medical science, mathematics, computer technology, law, business, music, and classical dance.
The World Blind Union is proud to be associated with a publication so rich in life history. Surely, blind people the world over will be inspired by these examples of personal triumph and creativity.
WORLD BLIND UNION
I have gone through with great interest and admiration the material included in this book. It contains real life stories of modern day blind heroes, who have made a niche for themselves in the socio-economic life of India--the great country with rich diversities.
From Homer to Helen Keller, the annals of world history represent the wealth of contributions and fortitude of blind persons through the centuries. In the present times also, there are shining examples world-wide of distinguished blind and partially sighted luminaries--mayors and ministers, professors and medical psychiatrists, adventurists and conquerors of Mount Everest. The book brings out in sharp focus the fact that the blind of India are second to none--not just in the field of work with the blind, but also in a variety of mainstream activities, occupations and professions. The Norwegian Association of the Blind & Partially Sighted (NABP) has through the decades been striving to lend a helping hand to self-help movements in the developing countries, which work ceaselessly towards raising the profiles of their blind brothers and sisters. It is with great happiness and satisfaction that we note that our joint endeavous with these pioneering organizations have paved the way towards opening up new vistas of opportunities for blind persons seeking to attain new heights of excellences. It is these successful blind citizens who prove through their examples in the developing world that blindness is no barrier to successful and independent living.
NABP’s association with AICB spans a period of just about one decade. During this short period of time, we have watched with great appreciation the growth of this Confederation, which is now celebrating the Silver Jubilee of its establishment. We wish the Confederation a very happy Silver Jubilee and are confident that it would continue to serve its blind and partially sighted members across the country with increased vigor and vitality in the years to come, too.
I hope and trust that this book being brought out by AICB would serve as a beacon light of hope and success for thousands of other blind men and women still striving to achieve excellence in their respective spheres. I also fervently hope that it would prove a resource of enduring value for all researchers as also community leaders and government officials whose task and responsibility it is to work in close partnership with premier self-help organizations like AICB to secure equality of opportunities and full participation for blind and other persons with disabilities.
My heartiest felicitations to AICB for this much needed initiative in bringing out this invaluable publication.
Director International Affairs,
For some time past now, the need for a comprehensive book on the achievements of contemporary blind persons in India, was being felt with great intensity. While there had been some brief and sporadic attempts to produce such success stories, these have proved woefully limited and circumscribed in range and scope. There has also been a tragic shortage of such comprehensive collection in Hindi.
As All India Confederation of the Blind (AICB) braced itself to commemorate the momentous occasion of its Silver Jubilee, many proposals were put forward for the purpose. It was, however, the general consensus that one of the activities AICB should take up during the year is to collect, present and disseminate information about successful blind persons currently engaged in different spheres of work in the country. It was also felt that it would be more relevant and consistent with the present-day philosophy of inclusion and mainstreaming to concentrate on persons achieving eminence primarily in fields other than work for the blind. Thus came into existence the concept and rationale for the present book.
This book is now ready for a wide distribution free of charge. What is of no less significance is the fact that the book is in English and its Hindi translation has also been arranged. It has been brought out in Braille too, in both English and Hindi.
The book contains true life stories of 40 blind men and women who have made a mark for themselves in a wide range of professions and activities--information technology, science,medicine, literature, civil services, banking, management, business and entrepreneurship, astrology, dance, accountancy, law, journalism etc.
As we look back on completion of this stupendous and challenging task, we are deeply touched by the help and support we have received from many quarters in bringing out this publication and it is our very pleasant responsibility to acknowledge the deep debt of gratitude to all of them.
First and foremost, our sincerest thanks are due to all of our successful blind heroes who have responded so heartily to our questionnaires soliciting information on their achievements. Our task would have remained incomplete, the desire of thousands of our readers would have gone unfulfilled, if these shining stars had not taken time off their schedules and provided to us their cooperation in such abundant measure. Space constraints do not permit us to thank each of them by name, here, but we have no doubt that their exemplary achievements chronicled in this book, are a living testimony to our genuine appreciation for their support. A number of our well-wishers having commendable writing abilities, have lent us their invaluable cooperation in bringing out this book.
We are deeply grateful to Mrs. Mukta Aneja for the untiring efforts made by her in examining the material collected based on the struggles and achievements of our subjects and preparing a large number of lively success stories presented in this book. We are most thankful to Dr. Anil Aneja, Secretary, AICB for the valuable insights provided by him during the process of writing ths book. We would also like to express our thanks to Reverend Joseph Raj, and Mrs. Lalitha for their precious support and encouragement.
Our sincere gratitude is due to the Eyeway Team, especially, Mr. Rajesh Kumar, Ms. Anjali Sengupta, Mr. Anand Sharma, Mr. Arjun Sengupta, Ms. Anjela S. Nath and Ms. Priya Varadan for their insightful contributions included in the book.
Dr. R.S. Chauhan Dehra Dun has lent us his valuable assistance through his admirable skills of translating into Hindi the stories originally written in English. We cannot but recall Dr. Chauhan’s contribution with profound appreciation and gratitude.
We are also immensely grateful to Mr. A. K. Mittal, Founder-Member, AICB, for the time spared by him in coordinating this project and providing to us his valuable advice and guidance towards preparing the book. Mr. George Abraham, CEO, SCORE Foundation, has been a source of great support and strength to us in editing the book and we are deeply grateful to him for his valuable cooperation.
All our concerned volunteers and staff including Ms. Meera Mittal, merit a special word of praise for the contribution made by them by way of text-entry and other computer activities.
No task of such magnitude could be possible without financial help. We must at this juncture, recall with the utmost gratitude the funding provided to us for this Project by several of the prominent international organizations and our other well-wishers. We are, thus, highly obliged for their generous assistance to:
(d) Mr. Pedro Zurita, former Secretary General of WBU.
We do hope and trust that this book which is the outcome of diligent and selfless joint endeavours of such a galaxy of well-wishers would prove a resource of enduring inspiration and guidance for all our readers--blind and sighted alike.
He created his own opportunities when none were available to him and paved his way to excellence. That’s Atul Ranjan Sahay, Head, Business Excellence, JUSCO (a fully owned subsidiary of Tata Steel).
Atul Sahay was born in 1966 in Darbhanga, Bihar. He and his family moved to the North-East while he was a child. Due to detachment of the retina, he lost sight in his left eye at the age of 14 and then his right eye at age 23.
Recollecting his experience at the age of 14, he says, “Whatever I focussed on got blacked out. That’s when I realised something was wrong.” Even while he was losing his vision, Atul Sahay knew all was not lost in his world. Disappointment lasted only for a very short time and he carried on well enough with vision in one eye for the next nine years.
While doing his postgraduate degree in Economics, he lost vision in his right eye too and became totally blind. Citing his preparedness for the eventuality he says, “I could sense what was coming even before the bandages were removed, given the mood and tone of the doctors.”
After he lost his sight, he had very little time for rehabilitation. His involvement with social work during his early days became his source of strength. He reminisces, “I remember reading about Helen Keller, Louis Braille and interacting with disabled people, all that helped me cope well.”
As he had not learnt Braille, his immediate concern was about how to complete his postgraduation. The born inventor in him devised means to draw diagrams and graphs by using pins, wires, boards, etc. in order to understand and remember concepts and definitions.
Sahay became the first blind person to obtain a postgraduate degree from the North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong in 1989. It was later, during his stay at National Institute for the Visually Handicapped, Dehra Dun,that he learnt Braille. That year (1990-91) he also won the Best Trainee Award and several other prizes.
After finishing his postgraduation, Sahay found himself at a cross-road. He recognised that in the existing system (non-inclusive and discriminative), his career aspirations would remain unfulfilled. As career options for a visually impaired person were limited in India, he decided to create a suitable opportunity for himself. He sought an audience with the then Joint Managing Director, Dr. J.J. Irani, at Tata Steel; he convinced Dr. Irani to provide him with a suitable opportunity.
He joined Tata Steel as an officer in 1992 and since then his career graph has risen steadily. Today, in 2005, he has been entrusted with the job of assessing Tata Group Companies for Business Excellence. He is the custodian of Tata Business Excellence Model for the organisation.
There is more to his credit. In 2003-04, he was one of 30 employees selected by Tata Steel to study for an Executive Diploma in General Management from XLRI, Jamshedpur. Sahay passed with a noteworthy grade – one of the first known blind persons in the country to do so. As Unit Leader--I.T and Communication, he taught I.T to many of his colleagues who were sighted. He has always had a ‘never seek favour’ attitude and has valued self-esteem. When he emerged as the best performer in his area of work, many of his colleagues wanted to know if he was subjected to similar tests or was there a special consideration for him!
Stating the initial reactions and attitudes of his colleagues when he first joined the company, he says, “Some thought initially that it was an act of kindness on the part of Tata Steel. Then, slowly but certainly, they accepted me as an equal.” In fact, many of his colleagues see him as a threat as many of his seniors have now become his juniors!
If you think academics and career peaks are the only interests of Mr. Sahay, then think again. His adventurous spirit lured him to the Himalayas, and he went on four treks, each of which was 13,000 plus feet above sea level--proving again that he seeks to be at the top, to excel in whatever he does.
Perhaps it is his adventurous spirit that enables him to empower other visually challenged persons. He laid the foundation for the empowerment of persons with visual impairment in Jamshedpur and subsequently developed and consolidated similar activities in other parts of Eastern India.
He has also contributed significantly to sports for the blind, especially cricket and adventure sports. He initiated and institutionalised Annual National Adventure Camp for Visually Challenged persons in Jamshedpur and was intensely involved in organising the World Cup Cricket for the Blind in 1998.
Access to information and communication is key to empowering persons with blindness and visual impairments in India--Mr. Sahay asserts. He strongly believes that computer technology can act as a facilitator. Software such as JAWS for Windows, as he says, “changed my life, and of many others like me in the country”. He hopes for a technological revolution that would redefine life for a visually impaired person.
Mr.Sahay reasons that despite all odds, people with disabilities in India (particularly blind people) are doing very well, but “there is no place for complacency.”
An eternal positivist, Mr. Sahay has faced every adverse situation with calm: “Life is a challenge and the more you struggle the more you live.” His family consists of four-year-old daughter Pragya and wife Seema.
- A Crusader
Overcoming immense hurdles and prejudices, Dr. B.S. Venkatesh has risen in life to demonstrate that, given a chance, blind persons can teach, at the highest levels, subjects which are, usually, considered beyond their reach. He is among a select group of blind persons who have excelled in the field of teaching Economics.
B.S. Venkatesh was born on 1st July 1964 in Bangalore in a middle class family. He had to drop out of school when he was just ten years. The reason? He suddenly lost his eyesight when he was in the 5th standard. Pain, shock, bewilderment made him discontinue his education. The little boy who had initially joined a regular school like other normal children of his age, had no tools to help him cope with the sudden onset of blindness, which occurred due to retinal detachment. After the initial state of helplessness and disbelief, his father took the initiative and guided him towards resuming his education. So, Venkatesh successfully completed his 7th standard examination as an external candidate, securing First Division. He felt motivated to study further and with encouragement from his father and grandfather, he resumed schooling as a regular student, from 8th standard onwards. After that, there was no looking back. He won the best student award in almost every year, right uptil his graduation.
Venkatesh faced many difficulties in his school and college days. Apart from problems of traveling and transportation, he was not able to find timely reading help. Depending upon audio devices was both costly and unwieldy. To procure the required textbooks in Braille was particularly difficult as he attended a regular integrated school, where reading material in Braille was not available. As he moved to senior classes, problems relating to visuals, graphics, diagrams and equations became more and more conspicuous. The sensitive young student was also perturbed by the attitude of certain people when he approached them for help regarding these problems.
But Venkatesh was determined to succeed and not allow such obstacles to get the better of him. He started taking the help of personal assistants for traveling and reading and also received help from friends. He diligently prepared concise notes in Braille, paying special attention to questions not directly based on graphics. His talents began to shine forth as he participated in various extra-curricular activities and won prizes, too. He performed remarkably well in his B.A. and was awarded the National Merit Scholarship to pursue his post-graduation. He successfully completed his M.A. in Economics with specialization in Banking, a subject which very few visually challenged persons had taken uptil then.
Prejudices against the blind continue to prevail everywhere in this world. B.S. Venkatesh was not mentally prepared for the long struggle he had to undergo, in order to get a suitable job. He did not receive any response to many of his job-applications. Even Central Schools, which have special reservations for the blind, did not consider his applications. Even when he was called for interviews, he was rejected on account of his so-called disability, though he was well-equipped with the required qualifications. Notwithstanding his professional capability, the authorities mistakenly believed that a blindperson could not manage classroom situations. It is a demoralizing experience for anyone to remain jobless for eight years; but Venkatesh drew upon his inner resources of courage and determination and did not give up. At this juncture, the UGC issued fresh guidelines, which made Eligibility Test compulsory for aspiring lecturers. B.S. Venkatesh was one of the few people in Karnataka at that time to have qualified the state level test for lecturership. This criterion made his selection automatic and the Government of Karnataka appointed him in a first-grade college.
Venkatesh has been working in the Department of Collegiate Education under the Government of Karnataka since August 1996. He is now a Senior-Scale Lecturer in Economics. He teaches both graduate and post-graduate students. His long cherished dream of teaching thousands of sighted students has come true. Venkatesh has fond memories of his first posting. He recalls, “Colleagues and superiors were excellent in their co-operation. My initial experience with the students was unforgettable. They received me with much affection and respect.”
In 2002, another cherished goal was realized as he received his Ph.D. degree from Bangalore University. His research topic: “Problems and Prospects of Development of Backward Regions--A study of Karnataka State”, covered nine important aspects of the State’s economy.
Today, Dr. B.S. Venkatesh has come a long way, facing and overcoming the challenges confronting a visually impaired research scholar. He now has the opportunity and responsibility of guiding M.Phil and Ph.D. students of Bangalore University.
Dr. Venkateshhas always kept himself busy in various intellectual pursuits. This is evident from the fact that he has actively participated in many seminars and conferences and also presented several insightful papers in his field. Among some of the papers he has presented are: “Inter-District Disparities in Road Development in Karnataka State” in a U.G.C. sponsored National Seminar in December, 2000 and “Agricultural Development in Karnataka--An Inter-Regional Analysis” in an Inter-Disciplinary International Conference, held in Bangalore in July 2001.
Dr. Venkatesh has found a good life partner. His wife is well-educated and has just finished her C.A. (Final) exams. They have two children - an eight-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son. Encouraged by his wife, Dr. Venkatesh often participates in family and local community functions.
In recognition of his contribution to society, Dr. B.S. Venkatesh has received several prestigious awards. In 2003, he received the “National Award for Best Employee - Visually Impaired Category”, which was conferred on him by the President of India. He has also received the “Vocational Excellence Award” from the Rotary Club in Bangalore. He has been honoured by the Government of Karnataka and by the prestigious Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore.
Dr. Venkatesh has yet again demonstrated convincingly that blindness need not be considered an obstacle to a career in teaching an ever-widening range of subjects. Appropriately enough, Dr. Venkatesh’s suggestion to the public is: “Society should recognize the special abilities and accomplishments of physically challenged people and should respect their achievements. Society should also allow the P.H. Category to avail legal provisions meant for them and stop obstructing their march to progress”.