BMC seals Mumbai school and fates of 50 deaf, deafblind children

Showing uncharacteristic speed, the BMC sealed the Helen Keller Institute for the Deaf and Deafblind, Asia’s first and the city’s only such school, barely a month after sending them a notice to vacate the 10 rooms they have been renting in a Byculla municipal school since 1979; the insitute’s 50 children now face an even bleaker future

For 36 years, one school stood out in the darkness as a solitary beacon of light for those to whom fate had been doubly unkind. Then, in one fell swoop, the BMC snuffed it out.

Ruqayyah Fidvi is one of nearly 50 deaf and deafblind students at the institute, which was sealed yesterday. Her parents, Murtoza and Mariya, are now worried about her future. Pics/Atul Kamble
Ruqayyah Fidvi is one of nearly 50 deaf and deafblind students at the institute, which was sealed yesterday. Her parents, Murtoza and Mariya, are now worried about her future. Pics/Atul Kamble

The future of nearly 50 deaf and deafblind students hangs in the balance after the civic body displayed uncharacteristic speed in sealing the city’s only school for them yesterday, barely a month after they sent it a notice to vacate the premises.

Also Read: Interesting facts about Helen Keller

Ruqayyah with her parents at their house
Ruqayyah with her parents at their house

What’s more, the school, which is also the first of its kind in Asia and takes no fees from its students, is being asked to vacate all the 10 rooms it occupies in a municipal school building in Byculla allegedly so that a mere 28 students from the BMC school can be accommodated.

File photos of her being taught at the institute
File photos of her being taught at the institute

Authorities from the institute say their pleas to take away a couple of classrooms and allow them to keep the rest to avoid displacing the deafblind students have also been ignored.

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Turning a deaf ear
In the last week of May, the BMC issued a notice to the Helen Keller Institute for the Deaf and Deafblind, asking it to vacate the 10 rooms it has been renting at the Byculla Municipal Secondary School since 1979.

“After we got the notice, we met senior BMC officials. We even visited Matoshree and, from there, we were asked to meet Yashodhar Phanse, the chairman of the BMC Standing Committee, who had assured us that an inspection would be conducted before the BMC took a final call.

We had met as recently as Tuesday,” said Devyani Hadkar, a coordinator and special educator of the institute. Yesterday, just two days after the meeting, the authorities at the institute were shocked to find that the institute had been sealed by the BMC. A notice left by the door said that the civic body wants to use the space for its own school.

It stated that the civic body’s school was falling short of space as, according to Right to Education norms, every student needs to have a space of 8 square feet in the classroom. It also said that a new school was being started, referring to extending the classes to Std VIII. “All our equipment is inside and we have been left in the lurch,” said Hadkar.

Uncertainty looms
For Mariya Fidvi, the future of her 10-year old multi-disabled daughter Ruqayyah, now seems more uncertain than ever. “The school is the only one of its kind in the city and, being in Byculla, it is centrally located.

Parents of kids like mine do not want their children to take trains and other means of transportation to reach school. This news is very sad and I don’t know what my daughter’s future will look like,” said Fidvi. Ruqayyah is one of nearly 50 deaf and deafblind students at the institute.

Ranging from the ages of eight months to 25 years, these students are trained, educated and, depending on the situation, even taught how to eat and use the toilet at the institute. They are taught to operate computers, identify things and are helped in passing their Std X exams through the open school system. Older students are also taught vocational skills to make them self-sufficient.

Trail blazer
The institute has, since its inception, educated more than 1,200 students and trained more than 500 teachers, who now teach such kids across the country. Sheela Sinha, director of the Helen Keller Institute for the Deaf and Deafblind, said, “This is a huge setback.

This is a pioneer institute and a model school. Everyone is trained here, from kids to teachers, and every deafblind kid is touched by us. We were the first such school in Asia and institutes in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Vietnam have been set up after taking technical guidance from us.

We will find our way, but the whole field has received a major setback. We have a very well developed centre and this particular move by the BMC will definitely cause problems for us.”

BMC speak
The BMC claims it needs the space as it wants to start Std VIII in the school. Prakash Charhate, deputy education officer, said, “We have 28 students and want to start the school (extend classes to Std VIII) here itself as this is our space. We do not want to give any space as it is ours and we will run classes for our students.”

Authorities from the Helen Keller institute said they had offered to surrender one or two classrooms for the purpose, but the civic body authorities sealed all the rooms occupied by the institute. “I’m aware of the issue. There have been representations from both sides.

The local corporator has also said that they need space for extending classes to Std VIII. I met the authorities of the Helen Keller institute two days ago and I have heard their side too. I will visit the school for an inspection next week,” said BMC Standing Committee Chairman Yashodhar Phanse.

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