It all started with the code for army, but nearly 200 years later it’s yet to become a source of light for Kashmir’s unseeing population.
Forth of January is celebrated as the international Braille day, but lack of infrastructure and instructors is making it a dismal day — dictated by the distressed reality of the sightless community and their disempowered life — in Kashmir.
But while the lack of support-structure is pushing the visually impaired on a treacherous path in the valley, it has become a big comment on establishment driven by a “developmental” agenda. The dearth is there despite the innovation already nearing two centuries.
Back then, when Napoleon was ruling France, there were constant warfare and these wars were strategised during the night. The army while reading the codes used to light lamps and the other camp was able to note the position of the personnel. It was a war veteran—Charles Barbier—who developed a 12-dot code that could be read with the help of fingers by touching and feeling the raised dots. This system was also called as “night writing” system.
However, Barbier’s technique was not possible to read with only one finger. So, it paved way for another innovation by a Frenchman—Louis Braille—who lost his sight at a very young age after he accidentally stabbed himself in the eye with his father’s awl. Braille’s father was a leather-worker and poked holes in the leather goods he produced with the awl.
At the age of 11, Braille was inspired to modify the night-writing code in an effort to create an efficient written communication system for the fellow visually impaired so that they could also read and write.
Following Braille’s work, the code was now based on cells with only 6-dots instead of 12. This crucial improvement meant that a fingertip could encompass the entire cell unit with one impression and move rapidly from one cell to the next.
Over time, Braille gradually came to be accepted throughout the world as the fundamental form of written communication for visually impaired individuals.
To learn Braille, a visually impaired person needs two things: an instructor and an institute including Braille library where braille could be taught.
But in Jammu and Kashmir—with 66,000 blind population (as per the census 2011)—government institutes teaching Braille have achieved nothing. They lack innovators, study material and don’t have a single library either of Braille or the scanned/E-text or recorded books.
The absence of avenues confines the sightless to four-walls and makes them disempowered and dependent. Stripped of their entitled rights, the visually impaired live sans a support system.
This disadvantaged life goes against the spirit of the Article 21 of the Constitution of India providing for right to life—not only to the non-disable, but also the persons with disability.
Similarly, OHCHR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights) Declaration on the rights of persons with disability provides the right to medical, social rehabilitation, education, vocational training and rehabilitation, aid, counselling, placement services and other services which will enable them to develop their capabilities and skills to the maximum and will hasten the processes of their social integration or reintegration.
Disabled persons have the right to economic and social security and to a decent level of living. They’ve the right, according to their capabilities, to secure and retain employment or to engage in a useful, productive and remunerative occupation and to join trade unions.
But in Kashmir, there’s clear hesitance in admitting the visually impaired in the mainstream schools because of the preconceived notions of them not being able to read and write. The normalised behaviour overlooks the examples like M.R. Tariq Bashir, an assistant professor in the department of higher education who despite all odds has proved his capabilities.
Louis Braille’s legacy, to sum up, has enlightened the lives of millions of sightless people. The effect of the innovation is tremendously empowering and helps visually impaired achieve success in school and their careers. But in Kashmir, Braille system still awaits the much-needed instructional and infrastructural boost.
Aqib Rehman is a student of International Relations, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.