Vicky Roy, Photographer
Vicky Roy, PhotographerFile Photo

Inspiring photo campaign showcases the lives of disabled individuals in India

An unlikely team of a rag-picker-turned-photographer and a Silicon Valley technocrat is bringing stories of disabled children to the mainstream

Stories of perseverance, alienation, compassion and collaboration aren’t rare. But the impact of each one is unique, since they tell similar stories with different nuances. Using a Canon 5D Mark III camera, photographer Vicky Roy has captured about 200 disabled people across India, of which 162 images have already been published on the website of the India Inclusion Foundation (IIF). The IIF’s mission is creating an ‘Inclusive India’.

One of the 36-year-old Roy’s subjects is a 17-year-old Class XI student named Pooja Singh living in Bhopal who has a singer’s itch: humming Bollywood songs while helping her mother with household chores, or gossiping with her two sisters. A good student, Pooja dreams of becoming either a teacher or a singer.

But she can’t see the YouTube music videos, nor can she identify her mother and sisters by sight: Pooja was born blind. Her father deserted the family, fearing the responsibility of caring for a blind daughter. The Singhs are not rich; they live on the mother’s earnings as an ASHA worker. Roy’s camera has also recorded the remarkable story of Dwarika Prasad Jangde, a 35-year-old autorickshaw driver from Bilaspur, Jharkhand. An example in courage, Jangde is swimmer and a wheelchair fencer, who participated in the Canada Paralympics in 2014.

Roy’s narrative strength comes from VR Ferose, a software executive working in Silicon Valley, California, and founder of the Bengaluru-based IIF, whose mission is to make disability inclusion mainstream. Behind many a success lies a tragedy, a mission. In 2010, Ferose’s son was diagnosed with autism. It was a decisive moment for the father, now 50 years old. In 2011, he met Arun Shourie, whose son has cerebral palsy.

VR Ferosea, software executive working in Silicon Valley
VR Ferosea, software executive working in Silicon ValleyFile Photo

Shourie encouraged Ferose to launch the foundation. Funding comes from donations and corporate CSRs. Adversity unites people of different backgrounds and persuasions. Roy ran away from home in Purulia, West Bengal, when he was just 11, and ended up as a rag-picker in Delhi railway station, from where he was rescued after a couple of months by the NGO, Salam Balak Trust. The NGO realised he was interested in photography and later gifted him a camera at age 18, and Roy started working under Delhi-based photographer Anay Mann.

In 2013, Ferose invited Roy for a talk at Bengaluru following the launch of his book, Home Street Home. The collaboration of Ferose and Roy has kickstarted a photo campaign called ‘Everyone is Good at Something’. Roy is good with the camera and in 2008, was selected by the US-based Maybach Foundation to photo document the reconstruction of the World Trade Centre. He took a course in documentary photography at the International Centre for Photography, New York. He is listed in Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia 2016 List.

Roy’s mission has taken him to remote and far-flung corners looking for disabled people. His filmography includes the story of Eliana, an autistic child who goes to a mainstream school in Port Blair, loves maths and cursive writing. Another subject is 13-year-old Roshan Chhetri of Sikkim, who lost control of his legs after a fever.

A Class III student, who attends school online, his folks are fighting the odds to make him walk again. Leh’s 24-year-old Stanzin Otsala, who loves to dance can just about remove her socks now; she lost the use of her legs to brain tuberculosis 10 years ago. Roy’s labour of love is to immortalise their stories through his lens. Ferose has plans to publish a book with 100 of Roy’s eloquent photographs in October. In it every picture speaks not just thousand words, but a thousand stories of courage in adversity.

The New Indian Express