The truth must dazzle gradually

I’m spending this week away from Sanvedana at a nearby project called Jankalyan Rehabilitation Centre. This is a vocational training centre for adults over 18 who have mental and physical handicaps. For example, some of the intellectually disabled residents here spend most of their time making paper bags for local medical stores. Ravi, one of the physically handicapped residents here has been given a paper teacup making machine where he works 8 hours a day making teacups for a living. In some ways this is a much more relaxed and calm environment than Sanvedana.

In other ways, it is isolating and lonely. There are 7 residents here and 3 caretakers/ teachers – a grand total of only 10 people living in this facility. There’s one little girl with cerebral palsy here called Mansi who’s only 13 years old. She really should be at a school like Sanvedana, studying, but instead she’s here at a vocational centre full of adults. When I asked why she’s here, I was told about how her parents don’t want her at home – how they were willing to pay any amount of money to have her out of the house and how they consider to be nothing but a source of economic problems in the household. Furthermore, I found out about how her younger brother often bites and scratches her and her parents do very little to stop him. It was a heartbreaking story.

I was teaching Mansi some basic maths today – just adding numbers together – and she seemed so happy to be learning something new. Really, as a 13 year old, she should’ve been taught this stuff long ago but there was no one there to teach her. It broke my heart even more to think about how lonely she must feel here and how much better off she would be at a school with children her own age. Of the 7 residents here, 2 are high functioning adults who take on a teaching role in the centre and 4 are low functioning adults who are more like students. Mansi is the only child and is more mentally capable than all the other “students” but has to stay here for the sake of her own health. When she lived with her family, I am told that she wasn’t fed well and was extremely thin. There is also an old man here who everyone calls Mama. Aged 80, he has extremely severe intellectual disabilities. At home he used to be tied up and kept in a room but here, he lives freely. He loves watching the other residents play cricket and lives very happily amongst the youngsters.

Emily Dickinson wrote a famous poem that begins, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant“. I feel like Sanvedana has given me a slanted and one sided view of the treatment of disabled people in India. Sanvedana is a perfect project. It is incredibly run and it’s full of success stories of rehabilitation and recovery. This week, I feel like I’ve seen the other side. There are thousands of Mansis and Mamas across the country who will experience abandonment and extreme loneliness because of a condition they cannot control and that is so frustrating to me.

However, the same Emily Dickinson poem also ends with the line, “The Truth must dazzle gradually, Or every man be blind“. I suppose that it was necessary for me to see Sanvedana first. Witnessing all the problems that disabled people face in India without first seeing a prime example of a solution would probably have left me dejected and demoralised. Because I have been at Sanvedana and have seen how much good can be done by a relatively small group, I know there is hope for these people yet. There are plans to extend the vocational centre so that it can facilitate 20 men and 20 women with a wide range of mental capabilities. Hopefully, in a few years, this project will be bursting with just as much life as Sanvedana.

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