When photographer and journalist Swagat Thorat worked on a documentary on education for the visually challenged 18 years ago, he realised that this community had very few Braille books to read.
In February 2008, he launched the first edition of Sparshdnyan, a bi-monthly Marathi magazine in Braille that now reaches nearly 24,000 visually challenged individuals through schools and NGOs in the state. The 50-page magazine printed on thick Braille paper is expensive to publish but funded by donors.
“Initially people did not realise that even they need higher education and intellectual stimulation, but now the attitude is changing,” said Thorat, who is among the 24 winners of CNN-IBN’s annual, national-level Real Heroes Awards this year.
Sangli resident Amirbi Sheikh Bandhawa, the madame of a local brothel, runs zero-budget schools for children of sex workers, is also among the award recipients. Unlettered herself, she roped in a social worker Deepak Chauhan to teach the children basic English, Hindi, math and science.
Bandhawa is proud that the 60 women in her schools now sign their names instead of using thumb prints.