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India's Special Olympics athletes live in packed, understaffed home

The Asha Kiran home houses 10 athletes who will represent India at the Special Olympics in Los Angeles, starting July 25. As of March 5, 2015, 7 inmates have died at Asha Kiran. The facility, however, told HT that all deaths were due to "natural causes." An RTI inquiry revealed that 51 inmates of the home died in 2014.

other Updated: Jun 20, 2015 19:42 IST
Shantanu Srivastava
Shantanu Srivastava
Hindustan Times
Special Olympics 2015,Los Angeles,Asha Kiran Home for Mentally Retarded Persons

An RTI inquiry last month revealed that as many as 51 inmates at Asha Kiran Home for differently abled persons died last year, a stunning 76% increase from the 29 deaths reported in 2013.This is the highest number of deaths reported in the home in a year since 2005-06 when 59 inmates had died.

The Asha Kiran home houses 10 athletes who will represent India at the Special Olympics in Los Angeles, starting July 25. As of March 5, 2015, 7 inmates have died at Asha Kiran. The facility, however, told HT that all deaths were due to "natural causes."

"All deaths of the residents were due to natural causes like prolonged illness and other acute physical conditions. Most of these deaths have occurred in hospitals. In all cases, post-mortem and magisterial inquest were done," BS Banerjee, administrator of Asha Kiran, said. Things, he said, have improved quite a bit of late, and "there had not been a single case of chikungunya, dengue, malaria, chicken pox, scabies, F1N1 infection, diarrhea, dysentery, etc. in the complex during last two seasons."

"There have been several studies in which it was established that the longevity of the mentally challenged, especially severely and profoundly challenged, is very less, i.e., 20 to 40 years," Banerjee added.

A poor life span, however, is not the only limitation the special athletes are battling. Last year, Britain's Daily Mail quoted social activist Rajhans Bansal, who had filed a series of RTI applications to unearth the living conditions in Asha Kiran, thus: "There is massive mismanagement of whatever facilities are available at the centers. Mentally-challenged inmates face many problems owing to over-crowding. Imagine three people scrambling for space to sleep on a small bed."

Replying to HT's query about the present state, the facility claimed there are beds for every inmate. A visit to some of the complex's residential areas, however, revealed a pile of mattresses that serve as beds. It remains unclear if each inmate has a mattress exclusively for his/her individual use, and if the management deems beds to be the same as mattresses. One of the cottages in the women's wing had two beds sprawled for the use of attendants, while most of the halls -- where the inmates sleep -- had no more than two beds. The scene was similar in the men's wing.

Lack of space remains another concern. Against the sanctioned strength of 510, Asha Kiran houses 895 residents. Expansion plans, however, are afoot. "The lay-out and architectural plan was approved in 2014. After approval of the sanctioned plan, it will take about two years to complete the new home. This will be a modern home and will house about 700 residents," Banerjee said of the proposed facility expected to come up soon in Narela.

Staff crunch is another limitation. Though the likes of Seema -- who doubles up as powerlifting coach and House Aunt -- are doing their best to juggle multiple roles to perfection, at least 243 positions are still awaiting approval. "The proposal for creation of staff was taken up a few years back and 391 posts were sanctioned in 2013. It was felt that these are also not sufficient and further studies were got conducted by the Government of NCT of Delhi (Administrative Reforms Department) and we have now got the recommendation for 243 additional posts in December, 2014. Formal approval of the competent authority is expected shortly," the facility wrote to us.

While the selection and training of athletes for the event is taken care of by Special Olympics Bharat, the organisation, which is a National Sports Federation accredited by Special Olympics International to conduct Special Olympics programs in India, does not provide training equipment to the participating athletes.

"Generally we don't provide the sports equipment but we help and support if any institution or individual athlete can't afford the same for their advanced training. We have given them (Asha Kiran) few equipment and kits for the Young Athlete Program for the children from age 2 to 7," Virender, Special Olympic Bharat's Area Director of Delhi and Haryana, informed us in an e-mail response.

Interestingly, as much as 60% of their wards come from economically weaker sections of the society. All the LA-bound athletes from Asha Kiran are orphans.

As far as nutritional demands of the athletes are concerned, Asha Kiran depends on its medical staff. Special Olympics Bharat, however, occasionally conducts a Healthy Athlete program, which informs the special athletes and their coaches on "the good and bad habits of eating, their body BMI, bone density and other health related instructions."

First Published: Jun 20, 2015 17:10 IST