K R Raja, founder, Global Network for Equality, won the Award for Eminence at the Cavincare Ability Awards 2016 for his work in redressing the problems faced by people with HIV/AIDS, destitute elderly and children of prisoners serving life sentences. A native of Kallankurichi, Villupuram district, Raja’s life has been a struggle. “I had a fever when I was eight months old and was given an injection overdose on the nerve. This paralysed my nerves thus giving me a polio attack,” says Raja.
Born to parents who worked as daily-wage labourers, the harsh realities were a way of life to him. “Until I was eight, I did not walk. Only after joining the residential school for special children in Anna Nagar, I was treated well and started using crutches,” he recalls.
But Raja never considered himself to be ‘special’. “I wanted to be inclusive and did not want to study in a special school. My parents did not agree to it as they were worried about facilities in a mainstream school,” he adds. Raja decided to study in a normal school and was taken back to their village where he completed his schooling. Following the advice from parents and other village elders, Raja left his village to join a teacher training course in Chennai in 2002.
“But it took three years for me to get the seat and I was angry. I refused the offer in 2005 and instead, I joined BA (Philosophy) in Vivekananda College.” Raja says taking up philosophy was a conscious decision as it help him develop oratorical and logical reasoning skills. “I spent half the time studying for my degree and the rest in learning political history, improving my English skills and general knowledge,” he says.
Spending three years in the secretariat gave him a lot of practical knowledge. “At one point, I aspired to become a minister and even waited for three years so that they would redress my problem and give me a seat to contest election,” he says. While doing research on various public issues, he stumbled upon children abandoned by prisoners serving life sentences. “I was shocked to see many children abandoned after their fathers were imprisoned,” he says. Either the father would have killed the wife over marital issues or would have committed a crime, leading the mother to take care of the child as a single parent.” After seeing the plight of these children, he started the NGO Global Network for Equality with his friend Aravindan. It offers educational and other support to abandoned children. After a masters degree in social work, he became a prison counsellor. “My family is not well off. My parents still work as coolies, and I have faced challenges because of my disability. I have been discouraged by many. But I never gave up. That is something that everyone must remember. Never give up,” he adds. To offer help, visit www.gnequality.org