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Using disability to help enable change

December 17, 2012

javed ahmed tak, kashmir
Javed Tak did not let his disability, enforced by a gun attack amidst conflict, get in the way of becoming a hero for the physically challenged youth of Kashmir. -Photo by author

SRINAGAR: His disability at the age 20 proved a blessing for other disabled persons. He may not be able to stand on his own feet, but he motivates hundreds of physically challenged to live a normal life. Bearing the brunt of conflict for 16 years, 36-year-old Javed Ahmad Tak is a hope for thousands in Kashmir. As a child, Javed’s life was no different from children brought up in poor families. Hailing from Bijbhera village of Kashmir, he could not acquire good schooling.

However March 21, 1996 changed his life forever. Javed had gone to live at the house of his uncle, who was suffering from cancer and had gone to Delhi for a medical check-up. Javed’s uncle was associated with the National Conference – a political party in Kashmir. After the insurgency began in Kashmir in 1989, several individuals associated with political parties were killed and attacked allegedly by unidentified gunmen.

Recalling the incident, Javed says that on the night of March 21, 1996 several gunmen barged into his uncle’s house and attempted to kidnap Javed’s cousin. As the family members tried to retaliate, the gunmen fired indiscriminately. In the skirmish, Javed was hit by bullets damaging his spinal cord, kidneys, pancreas, spleen and intestines. Javed was immediately rushed to the hospital while the gunmen fled from the spot. Despite his bleak chances of survival, multiple surgeries helped Javed survive.

However, his life was changed for good. His right kidney, spleen and part of liver and intestines were removed. Though the spinal cord was fixed, it disabled Javed for life, paralysing his lower limbs.

“Before that incident, my parents had hoped I would become the family support. Being the youngest member in the family. I was obedient to the rest of the family and they loved me very much,” Javed tells

Academically, Javed wished to pursue legal studies and become a lawyer and would always be involved in social work, including blood donation, anti-smoking campaigns, polio immunisation programme among others. The incident halted Javed’s education and social activities.

After spending months bedridden, Javed started teaching the children of his locality and it slowly helped bring back his self-confidence

“I was upset for a long time because of the dependent life I now had to lead.”

As most of the children from Javed’s locality belonged to poor families, they were not able to afford any form of education. He  realised that the society, and in particular his community, was accepting him and needed him despite his physical condition.

The courage and enthusiasm he gained from teaching neighbourhood children, encouraged Javed  to pursue his  studies by doing two distance certificate courses, in Human Rights and Computing from Indira Gandhi National Open University. Gradually, he began working for physically and mentally challenged people.

“It is only by becoming disabled that my vision of the world changed and when I realised the problems the disabled face. I am deeply hurt by the constant social stigma, and the lack of access they have – whether it is the right to education, employment, health facilities or accessibility,” he says.

Javed started his social work by writing complaints to Human Rights Commissions both at state and central levels. One complaint that he filed was concerned with the Government of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), which was not providing any attention towards leprosy-affected people in the leper colony situated in Srinagar. The chairperson of the State Human Rights took the cognizance of the complaint and directed the government to take steps for their rehabilitation.

As his interest in social work grew, Javed enrolled for a master’s degree in Social Welfare at the University of Kashmir.

“Through my course, I came to know how to use different techniques as a social worker and how to work for the welfare of the physically and mentally challenged. From then on, I intensified my fight for the rights of the physically challenged and sought moral support from various community leaders and those showing concern regarding disability-related issues.”

After acquiring his master’s degree, Javed’s first achievement was to draft a policy on the implementation by the Recruitment Board of horizontal reservation for the employment of the physically challenged after having filed public interest litigations in Jammu and Kashmir High Court, praying against the miserable conditions of the physically and mentally challenged.

“In the past, the process of employing physically challenged, according to Jammu and Kashmir Disability Act was only a myth but the recruiting agencies were extremely discriminatory in this regard, however from then on the enforcement of the act was monitored,” Javed says with pride.

During the course of his masters degree at the University of Kashmir, Javed organised students with physical challenges and encouraged them to seek their rights from the university’s authorities. Going from department to department and identifying peers was a great source of pleasure and an important part of his life, which enabled Javed to create bonds for the first time, experiencing life away from family and built new ties.

The efforts paid off eventually. For example, the university began placing ramps at the entrance of seven important buildings including hostels, administrative block, examination block; it was the first time in the history of Kashmir University that World Disability Day was celebrated on December 3, 2005 and has been continuously celebrated ever since with the participation of intellectuals, policy makers, members of civil societies and lawyers.

An amount of Rs 75,000, which Javed received as ex-gratia relief from government was used to start a helpline NGO.

“I thought it better to utilise the money for the benefit of others. So I started Humanity Welfare Organization, a helpline NGO in 2003.”

The main function of the organisation today is to run a computer centre for the poor, orphans, physically challenged and free of cost for BPL and orphans due to militancy. In addition, the NGO is running a school for blind in which various students are learning braille system of education. The school is first of its kind in Bijbehara  and second of its kind in the Kashmir valley. Education, here, is completely free of cost.

Javed’s work fetched him many awards, including the National Award for welfare of person with Disabilities (2004), Achievers Award from Rotary Club of Kashmir (2005), Tak Zainagiri Memorial Award for Welfare of Orphans (2005), J&K State Award for empowerment and upliftment of physically challenged – 2007, NCPEDP – Shell Helen Keller Award for creation of Employment opportunities for the Disabled People (2007), District Youth Award through NYK Anantnag (2006),CNN – IBN7 citizen journalist Award (2008), Cavinkare Ability Award for Eminence by Ability foundation Chennai (2009), Servant of poor Awards by CNRI New Delhi (2009) and Karmveer Purskar “Chakra for Eminence” by Congo Delhi (2009).

“I consider myself blessed for what happened to me, a blessing from God. Despite my disability, I have found a place in society at academic and professional levels. I have also been rewarded for my perseverance and social actions.”