A plucky 17-year-old disabled girl has bagged a seat in a prestigious law college, one among the very few disabled who go in for higher studies in India, but her hopes of becoming a lawyer may be dashed as the college has denied her "suitable hostel accommodation".
Pooja Sharma, who is crippled below the waist, gained admission in Symbiosis Law College, Pune, one of the top colleges in India. She had scored 71 per cent in the Class 12 board examinations.
"As a physically challenged girl, don't I have the right to study like a normal student? Can't I dream big? Can't I ever go out of my city to pursue higher education?"
"I want to become a reputed lawyer and serve my country," Sharma said.
"The college has backtracked from its promise of giving me a suitable accommodation -- a single room in the hostel," said Sharma, who is a resident of Meerut. She is now in Delhi to take the help of a disabled rights organisation.
Sharma is among the 18 percent of disabled people in India who study beyond the secondary level.
According to the 2001 census, the number of disabled in the country is 22 million.
However, the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), a voluntary organisation working among the disabled, puts the number at over 60 million.
While 93 per cent of the disabled in rural India have studied below the secondary level, in urban areas the percentage stands at 82.
Only nine out of 1,000 physically challenged people in urban areas are able to get into engineering colleges as against three in rural areas.
"I am here to take the help of NCPEDP to approach the college. Both my family and the organisation are planning to file a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court," said Sharma, whose father is an engineer.
"Why can't the government and educational institutions help me and others like me get good education. I want to be an independent person and pursue my dream."
According to her, the college enrolled her after she qualified in a written test and interview and agreed to pay Rs 52,000 as tuition fee per annum to pursue the five-year course.
Her mother Rekha Sharma said she would do whatever possible to see that her daughter becomes a lawyer.
"Since she has a physical handicap, it would not be possible for her to share a room with others. She needs a single room, but they declined to provide that either in the hostel or in a nearby place," said Rekha,
"I think the government is not doing enough to help physically challenged people," said an emotional Rekha.
NCPEDP chief Javed Abidi, who is himself disabled, said he had written to the human resource development ministry to intervene in the matter, but "they don't have the courtesy to send even an acknowledgement".
"Three per cent reservation for disabled should not be restricted only to admission. All the educational institutions should make their hostel, library and classrooms accessible to people like us. We are weighing all options including a PIL in the apex court for Pooja," said Abidi.