19 year old Jaswinder Singh Sodhi has just provided a hope for the disabled to pursue a career in computer engineering. Suffering from cerebral palsy, like 25 lakh other children in India, Sodhi has convinced the government to change its archaic rule of allowing a person to write answers on behalf of a disabled student.
Now, the government will allow disabled the option to use modern aids such as computers, to answer question papers, apart from a writer.
Sodhi will be the first student affected by cerebral palsy in India to have an option, including CAD, to answer the engineering drawing question paper on May 13, courtesy the HRD ministry.
"We will ask University Grants Commission to prescribe modern aids for the disabled students to appear in examination for different streams," a senior HRD ministry official said.
Jaswinder’s parents JS Sodhi and Neelam Sodhi, both doctors by profession, realised in November 2010 that a writer will not be able to understand instructions of their son for the engineering drawing paper at his college Guru Nanak Dev Engineering College, Ludhiana.
A child with cerebral palsy cannot draw like normal children because of limited control over hands and therefore Sodhis wanted authorities to allow Jaswinder to use Computer Aided Design (CAD) used by majority of architects and engineers.
“Despite modern aids being available government is forcing disabled students to depend on a writer," said Javed Abidi, who runs the Disabled Rights Group.
Neelam Sodhi told HT that they were not asking for relaxation in the question paper but wanted a system to test their son’s "intelligence correctly".
That was beginning of a long and tiring journey for Jaswinder and his parents.
They knocked the doors of technical education bureaucracy at each level – the college, Punjab Technical University, Punjab government and the All India Council for Technical Education --- but failed to get a favourable response.
"Sometimes it had been very insulting, degrading and frustrating. We have cried a lot when nobody listened," she recalled, in an emotionally choked voice.
Finally, additional secretary in HRD ministry Sunil Kumar came to their rescue. Kumar in this April asked the vice chancellor of the university to provide all help to Jaswinder to his disability and enable him to appear in the examination for engineering drawing.
“Kumar’s letter worked,” Sodhi said on Wednesday, after a meeting with the vice-chancellor.
The university has asked the college to provide Sodhi with the option to use CAD for appearing in the examination on May 13 and decided to have a new examination policy for disabled students in Punjab.
The Jaswinder case has again highlighted the government’s apathy towards disabled people, despite several pronouncements.
The Central government decided that there will be a special unit in education regulatory bodies such as UGC and AICTE to enable the disabled to get higher education during the 11th five year plan ending in March 2012.
The government also ratified the UN convention for disabled in 2008, making a similar declaration.
"Everything has remained on paper," Abidi said.
“I hope Jaswinder would have stirred the government into action”.