Anantnag: They are engaged in a serious conversation. Some nodding and shaking their heads, others making hand gestures, difficult for others to figure out.
Bundled up in woolens, a knot of hearing and speech-impaired youth are discussing about funding their own special school where they could teach the children with special educational needs like them.
At least 12 hearing and speech impaired youth in south Kashmir's Anantnag and Kulgam districts came together and formed an association. After being given the runaround for months altogether at various official levels, they finally got their association – Anantnag District Association of the Deaf - registered under the Cooperative Societies Act.
"Now we are planning to set up a school for the children like us," says 22-year-old Aquib Gull Ganie, a deaf-mute from Kulgam's Qazigund area.
Gull, who is the president of the association, is an undergraduate student at a local degree college. He completed his schooling from a normal school and later went to Chandigarh to learn the sign language.
"There is a dearth of special schools in Jammu and Kashmir, spurring parents to send their children with special educational needs to normal schools," said Ganie. “Many parents don’t even realise that their deaf-mute children can be educated.”
Ganie-led association has begun raising funds for establishing the special school in south Kashmir where they could teach and train specially-abled students.
"It will be an educational-cum-training institute,” said Ganie. He said that a team of experts would decide the curriculum. However, the association is receiving scant response from the donors.
Over the past couple of months, it has been able to collect a precious little amount of a few hundred rupees.
Another deaf-mute Anamullah Rather, who is the general secretary of the association, said that they were unable to communicate with the people and that might be the key reason for people being disinclined to offer them donations.
"Many fund raising campaigns were littered with scams and that is another big reason for our association receiving poor response,” said Rather.
He said that many deaf-mute children in J&K were unlettered due to unavailability of special schools.
There is only one institute in south Kashmir for the kids with special educational needs, and for higher education these students have to enroll in regular institutes.
Available data suggests that as of 2019, 26.7 percent (25.9 percent boys and 27.7 percent girls) disabled students aged between 5 and 19 years had never attended a school and around 12.1 percent of such students no longer attend educational institutes.