There are four Braille presses in India, and only one in the eastern region, at the Narendrapur blind school. So, the Blind Persons’ Association undertook the task of starting another one in this region over a decade ago. On January 4, the 194th birthday of Louis Braille, the new press will be inaugurated at Malancha-Mahanagar, in South 24-Parganas.
“It has been an arduous road, and we have we come a long way,” says Saikat Kar, secretary of the association. “We never thought it possible, but now that we have accomplished this, there are plans for much more.”
Currently, there are no Braille books available beyond the Madhyamik level. Through the new Lal Bihari Shah (pioneer of the Behala Blind School) Braille Academia press, the association hopes to publish textbooks for Higher Secondary, BA, MA and more, in all the major Indian languages.
Novels, magazines, children’s literature and books on a variety of subjects, including science, will also be printed here. “There are several smaller Braille printers and publishers around, but not everyone can afford to get Braille books specially printed, or to have people to read them out,” explains Kar.
The Rs 75-lakh fund for the press was raised by the association mainly through collection forms handed out to students in schools and colleges all over India, as well as through the efforts of dedicated volunteers during festivals. “Ordinary people have been our biggest supporters by giving freely, and we are thankful for that. It would never have been possible without them, however big or small the amount,” adds Kar.
The second and third phases of the project involve setting up of a Braille books library and a talking library with the “latest technology, like the read-out machine”, a resource centre and a research facility. There are also plans to help financially-handicapped students — not just the blind — with textbooks and research material.
The entire project will cost around Rs 4 crore and take about another six years to complete, says Kar. “There have been times when the government has helped us, like a Rs 5-lakh grant for the press sanctioned by the South 24-Parganas district magistrate, but our primary source of funds will remain the people,” concludes Kar.