It seemed like a 'routine', tragic story — tired of caring for her two mentally retarded children, 30-year-old Neha Khatau drover her car off a cliff near Pune on January 3. All three died. Just another day in the life of modern India.
But those who live with or care for children with special needs did not quite see it like that. To them, it was a sign that parents of mentally challenged children probably need more reassurances than ever. And so was born the story that you are now reading.
One of the many letters to HT from readers who talked of the plight of parents like Khatau came from Neetu Watumall, a volunteer at SPJ Sadhana School for the Developmentally Handicapped at Peddar Road.
Located in the leafy campus of Sophia College, this school not just trains mentally challenged children to live independent lives but also acts as a support system for parents and siblings of these children.
The school trains children with a range of mental challenges — learning disabilities, autism and even Down’s Syndrome — in departments like office skills, vocational skills and hospitality and catering.
Walk into the painting class at this school and the kids’ replicas of Van Gogh’s paintings will leave you stunned. They also make some of the yummiest sandwiches and chocolates on campus.
"These children have a lot to offer," said Radhike Khanna, the school’s vice-principal who has a doctorate in special education. "But our minds are blocked."
As Khatau’s story revealed, parents of mentally challenged children are in as much need of counselling as the children themselves.
"We need to build a lot of confidence in parents," Sister E Gaitonde, principal of the school, explained. "Our (country’s) policies do not consider what parents go through."
The school believes that until these children grow up to be independent, they will have difficulty finding acceptance in society. Today, the school boasts a 93 per cent success rate.
HT brings you stories of three 'graduates' of Sadhana school who have transformed into confident men and are as much a part of mainstream society as their 'normal' counterparts.