A father’s tribute to his departed son

Satpal Saraf
When the world was observing ‘the year of disabled’, I, laid the foundation of ‘Viklang Chhatra Trust- Akhnoor’ (VCT) on 19th May 1980, the wedding day of my son, Joginder Chhatrapal, a Polio inflicted specially-abled, tall and charming personality, who left for his heavenly abode on 28 July 2019 leaving a void in the world of differently-abled people.

While I was concerned about my son’s disability, why couldn’t I do something for others like him, was my motivation. But it turned out to be my son’s mission more than mine when he supported my cause with the same zeal. We dedicated the Trust to the handicapped people of India. I took upon myself to minimise agonies of the suffering humanity. VCT was launched with the blessings of Panjore Mata, Sushri Kumari Vijay. The humble beginning was made by adopting school going handicapped children of the nearby area by providing crutches, wheel chairs, text books, stationery, uniforms and scholarships. Slowly and steadily, with the support of my son, the Trust enlarged its scope and undertook welfare of the sick and infirm. With the passage of time the Trust emerged as a prominent NGO for large scale Ophthalmology treatment and rehabilitation of Ortho- handicapped. Its activities became manifold. A stage came when we could extend health care and medical facilities to as many poor and ignored segments of the society as possible. It gave us immense pleasure when the Trust succeeded in getting ‘disability allowances’ to the handicapped children and additional 90 lakh disbursed among physically challenged children as arrears through J&K High Court.
Fight against Blindness. Cataract is a common eye ailment of the old age. I took upon myself to get rid rural areas of this menace. The first ever 10 days free Eye Camp was held in Akhnoor in February 1981 under the able guidance of Dr. Subash Gupta, senior-most Ophthalmologist of the state. In that historic camp, 106 cataract patients were successfully operated. 1500 other eye related ailments were cured. Army provided tentage accommodation and allied facilities. Doctors from GMC and Directorate of Health also rendered services. Thereafter free camps were held at Akhnoor, Jeorian, Khour, Pallanwalla, Kaleeth, Bhalwal, Devipur, Jhiri Baba-Jitto, Gho-Manhasan, Marh, Maira-Mandrian, Kalakot, Sunderbani, Nowshera, Reasi, Kandi-Buddhal, Dansal, Jindrah, Kishtwar, Ramban, Reasi and Katra on regular basis. Having held 127 Eye Camps, the Trust has benefitted more than 75,000 people by successful cataract operations. With the departing of my son, I feel the Trust orphaned. While I am old and in grief on the parting of my son, who was a force behind my relentless endeavors to end sufferings of the hapless people, I tell specially-abled people that my remaining life is dedicated to them.
My son, popularly known as Chhatrapal, was born on 10 January 1949 at Akhnoor. He joined Radio Kashmir-Jammu in 1976 as News Reader cum Translator and retired in 2009. In the media circles he was known as Devkinandan Pandey whose news broadcasts from ‘All India Radio’ used to be eagerly awaited. Radio fans pan-India would recall and rejoice him. He started writing at the age of 20 and soon became a prolific writer in Dogri, Hindi and English. He got many prestigious state and national awards. He was conferred with ‘Sahitya Akademi Translation Award’ for Dogri translation of ‘Kine Pakistan’ in 2015 and Sahitya Akademi Award for his epoch-making short story book ‘Chetta’ in 2016. His other famous & popular books include ‘Tapu da Aadmi’ and ‘Roshni se Dur’ and host of short stories including Tota-Maina, Marakhe and Agni, to mention a few. He translated Om Vidyarthi’s Dogri book ‘Kagaar Par Khari Zindgi’ into Hindi besides many English, Hindi, Punjabi, Gujrati, Rajasthani, Tamil and Telgu books and stories into Dogri. He remained President of Dogri Sanstha during which he promoted his mother tongue remarkably. He was conferred with ‘Rangmanch Kavya Natak Akhil Bhartiya Award’ and ‘Delhi Sahtiya Kala Parshid and Sarsaresth Hindi Lekhak Award’ besides many others. Even I have been rewarded. ‘All India Society for the prevention of Blindness’ gave me a national award in their all India Conference of Ophthalmologists held at Moti Lal Memorial Society Allahabad. Sh. NN Vohra, former Governor J&K conferred upon me the Coveted State Award comprising of a Gold Medal and a Citation on 14 May 2011. Smt Sonia Gandhi, presented me ‘award of excellence’ for the social work. Young Blood Association awarded me ‘Man of the Decade’ award. Akil Bharat Rachnatmak Samaj also rewarded me. Red Cross Society Jammu rewarded me in 2018. I am grateful to them. I owe these awards to my distinguished son.
The Trust got an Eye Bank established in GMC Jammu. It also succeeded in generating eye donation awareness and the organisers have pledged their own eyes to the Eye Bank. Soon someone will be seeing this beautiful world with my son’s eyes. “Donate your eyes and give someone the gift of sight”, is my request to the public.
Orthopedic Services. Since my son had Polio inflicted Ortho-disability, the Trust took upon itself to act as limb for the amputees. With the help of Bhagwan Mahavir Viklang Sahatya Samiti, Jaipur, world’s largest artificial limb fitting society, Trust launched a state wide programme of providing Jaipur Foot free of cost. During 1965 and 71 wars, lot of people in border areas, particularly in Akhnoor, lost their limbs because of shelling and mine blasts. The treatment for a mine blast injury is amputation. Between 1983 to 1986, VCT escorted 412 amputees to Jaipur Limb Centre for the fitment of artificial limbs/calipers. VCT organized a week long free Artificial Limb Camp at Akhnoor on 16 November 1993 benefitting 300 amputees. Most of the beneficiaries are Gujjars and Bakerwals who inadvertently intrude mined areas as grazier. (The Jaipur Foot is lighter in weight, durable and cosmetically closer to the actual limb and easy to fit. An amputee fitted with Jaipur foot can run, sit, squat, climb, plough and drive a vehicle). We were happy seeing disabled living a normal life.
Representation of Divyangs. Constitution grants social and economic equality and justice to all. Various communities, classes and categories of people including minorities are represented in Parliament and state legislatures. But Divyangs, as a segment of society, have not been given representation in either the Parliament or the State Assemblies despite being 4.5 to 5 crore. No political party gives them a mandate because they are neither financially sound nor physically able of running a vigorous election campaign to win seats. If they have representation in the legislature they can have beneficial laws passed. Trust has taken up case for their representation in the legislatures and is following it vigorously. I have written to President of India to use his influence to get them representation in the legislatures to enable them to raise their issues. In the memorandum to the Chief Justice of India, I have appealed him to give directions to GOI and state govts to amend ‘Representation of People’s Act’ so that Divyangs get 3% reservation as MPs and MLAs. I need public support in this mission. I hope with the support of my countrymen, I will meet my inspiring son with this mission fulfilled.
(The author founder of VIKLANG CHHATRA TRUST and the bereaved father)