The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Blind, with a vision

Calcutta, Sept. 27: The blind teach here, but they see more than a 26-year-old government does.

A school — run by a faculty of which most of the teachers are blind — is making waves in the Bamunghata-Bantala belt, weaning away students from the older government-aided institutions.

But it’s not the novelty of having their children taught by teachers who cannot see that is drawing people here. Most make a living catching fish or growing vegetables and selling them, but they express with great clarity why they send their children to this school. Here, the teachers — and the school authorities — have the vision of introducing children to English much earlier than government rules allow.

Welcome to Nirapad, an asbestos-and-bamboo-sticks affair 10 km from the EM Bypass. Not too far are the schools that have recently come up, boasting AC classrooms and buses.

Nirapad has four classes leading up to Class I, but has already received permission to take students up to Class VIII.

“When we started this school, we were just aiming to teach the basics of the two languages (English and Bengali) and mathematics to children who could not afford a better education and give some employment to the growing population of the blind who have finished school and college,” said Gargi Gupta of Voice of World (the organisation running the school).

“Now, however, there is increasing pressure on us to forsake our original one-class-at-a-time plan and take the school to Class VIII as soon as possible.”

Guardians agree. Arati Sardar, mother of Prakash and wife of a labourer, said: “If my son went to the sarkari school across the road, he would not have learnt anything.”

The government’s indecision over when to introduce English is not unknown to Arati. The language is taught ‘informally’ from Class II and ‘formally’ from Class III and the government is likely to take a decision soon. Arati prefers to pay Rs 35 a month as fee rather than wait for the government to make up its mind.

Nirapad was born two years ago, a year after a person by the same name died, leaving his land for the school. Today, his daughter, Nilima, is in charge, doubling up as one of the “sighters” who help the sightless faculty.

Not that the faculty needs such help. Samir Mandal teaches English and Bengali. Following the lines of nursery rhymes in the pages of a book using Braille, he looked in control of his class.

Santosh Sahni, another faculty member, is a celebrity, having represented India in the 1998 World Cup Cricket for the Blind. Preparing to catch a bus to the city, he said things are “different” at Nirapad. “I feel I, too, have something to contribute to a society that is conventionally called normal.”

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