Surrounded by a group of small children, Riaz Ahmad is busy teaching them lessons of life. He has taken into his own hands, in his case his feet, the responsibility of shaping the future of this country. Thirty-two year old Riaz from the border district of Poonch that lies nestled in the mighty Pir Panjal Range several hundred kilometers from New Delhi, was born without arms. But today, defying all the challenges life has thrown at him, he stands tall on his feet, carrying out the responsible role of a teacher in an area where education is, perhaps, the only solution to several development issues.
A resident of Village Natrol Sinkhatta, fifteen kilometers from Tehsil Mendhar, Riaz suffers from a birth defect called ‘Amelia’ wherein a child is born without hands, arms, legs, or feet. Riaz’s family was shattered initially, as he was born with such severe disability in an area which is not only geographically tough but also ravaged by militancy. “He was born at a time when everything was overshadowed by militancy. No one was bothered for the development of our state, forget about the rights of a physically disabled person. It was a time when we had no other option but to accept God’s decision,” shared Riaz’s father, who concerned about his son’s future, chose not to give up so easily and decided to educate his son. As Riaz did not have hands to hold a pen, his father put a pen between his toes and motivated him to write. After a few unsuccessful tries, Riaz finally succeeded in writing with his toes and practiced hard to excel in it. Riaz has not looked back since.
Riaz was admitted to the Primary school in Natrol for his obvious capability, continuing his education through to High School. “Not a single school was disabled friendly. In fact, Chhatral was seven kilometers from my house in this hilly region. I had had my share of difficulties while climbing these hills but no obstacle was bigger than my will to overcome,” shares Riaz.
He became a voracious reader but soon realized that he needed a degree if he wished to get anywhere and achieve any of his goals.
In 2003, Riaz married Shahida (name changed) and, with her care and support, spent seven years studying and preparing to become eligible for the role of a teacher in a Government school. “In 2008, his name appeared in the list of permanent teachers. Our prayers were finally answered,” states Shahida, who has given this family two healthy children.
“It has been eight years since he started teaching in this school but he has never given us a single chance to complain. We are very satisfied with his work,” says Mussarat Shah, Head of the school where Riaz teaches 25 students.
Riaz is lucky enough to be able to achieve his dreams. .A more recent research conducted by Javed Ahmad Tak, founder of Zeba Aapa Institute for Inclusive Education, himself wheelchair-bound, reveals that there are 8 lakh physically challenged persons in J&K and the number is going up every year
However, Jammu and Kashmir has, over the last several years, launched several state and center sponsored schemes for the welfare of physically disabled people, keeping in view that they must have equal opportunities and effective access to rehabilitation measures. But the very basic environment, where there is acceptance of people with special abilities is missing.
“Not everyone is like Riaz, blessed with a supportive family and environment and the zeal to win over the challenges of life – but everyone can definitely lead a life of dignity, irrespective of the physical disability they have. All it requires is a human touch to every scheme launched in the name of betterment of physically disabled people,” says Riaz’s father.
(The author is a student of Law School,University Of Jammu.)