Visually-impaired siblings from south Kashmir's Kulgam setting an example

Ruhi Jan (L), 26 and Aqib Rehman (R), 24 are two visually impaired siblings from south Kashmir's Kulgam, who are setting an example. GK Photo

In a world where even healthy people find excuses to sit home and do nothing, two visually impaired siblings from south Kashmir’s Kulgam district are breaking the barriers and have taken upon themselves to uplift the community of specially-abled people.

The duo is pursuing higher education and motivating their community members to do the same.

Ruhi Jan, 26 of Hanjan area of Kulgam district has a masters degree in Education and has recently qualified the National Eligibility Test (NET).

“I dreamt of becoming an assistant professor to teach and help the students who face various kinds of disabilities and instead of being a burden on the society, I wanted to serve the society so I chose to become an assistant professor,” she said.

While studying masters at the Kashmir University, Jan says that she faced a lot of difficulties in the beginning. “I knew no one there and no one knew about my disability, so going from hostel to the campus was a challenging task for me but slowly other students came to know about me and two girls namely Sobia Jan and Fazila Bashir became my close friends and helped me in everything. Sobia was the one to instill the idea of NET exams in me and motivated me whenever I felt discouraged,” says Ruhi with a smile on her face.

Preparing for NET

“Preparing for a competitive exam is not an easy job for people like us mainly because study material is not easily available, neither in the market nor on the Internet. I took YouTube classes and gathered whatever material was available (which was of course limited) and appeared in the exam,” she said. Jan wants to pursue PhD to further work on the education of the people from her community.

Aqib Rehman, 24 is her younger brother and is an IAS aspirant. He has completed his bachelors in arts (BA) from Kashmir University. After spending a year at the Government Degree College Kulgam, he sensed things were going south for him.

“I wrote an application to the college principal and requested him to allow me to study from home as it was very difficult for me to move from one building to the other in order to attend the classes. This motivated me to appear for Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exams, so I can make the education system better for the people of my community and make them aware of their rights given to them by the constitution and the World Disability Rights,” says Aqib.

Four years back, Aqib was associated with a non-governmental organisation where he taught specially-abled students to operate computers and motivated them to pursue education.

“I could sense that the members of our community were demotivated and the society also looked down upon us. This motivated me more to work for the community,” he says.

Aqib and his friends have started an online initiative to help specially- abled people across Kashmir whom they have never physically met. “People like us find it difficult to appear in exams because we need to find someone who can accompany us in exam centres as our scribe and this gave me an idea to start an online initiative and help people who have different disabilities to cope up with the situation,” said Aqib.

“Our online platform ‘Online Volunteers for Specially Abled’ provides help in many aspects for the people of our community. We arrange writers for those who are appearing for exams and promote those who have done something inspiring,” said Aqib.

“We will also be creating a YouTube channel to provide online classes to the specially-abled people and we hope that by providing education, we can uplift our forsaken brothers and sisters,” Aqib said.

Motivated since childhood

The early life of Aqib has also played a huge role in him being motivated to do something for his community. “During my childhood, my parents faced difficulties to get me admitted in a school and after running from pillar to post, I was finally admitted in a nearby primary school. This motivated me to appear for UPSC exams and create an education space for specially-abled people,” said Aqib.

“After I completed my Bachelors, I moved to Chandigarh to take coaching classes for UPSC and appeared for UPSC exams in 2019, I fell short of fifteen marks but that didn’t discourage me and won’t deter me from reappearing for the exams next year,” he said.

“I would have appeared again this year, but I have taken admission in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi for Masters in Political science, so I have to postpone the plan to appear for UPSC this year,” Aqib said.

“I had no special teachings or training and used “Text To Speech” and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to operate computers and listen to the study material,” he said.

“My family has supported me right from the beginning and while working with the NGO, I saw that many specially-abled people don’t have that kind of support. When I explored that gap in our community, I realized that these people need support and motivation and only a group of specially-abled people can do that job with adequacy and humility.”