MADHYA PRADESH: A resident of Bhopal, Gyanendra Purohit goes back to 1997 to tell a story that changed his life, and later, the lives of many speech-impaired persons across the country. He was preparing to build a career as a chartered accountant after clearing the foundation course.
On May 31, 1997, his speech impaired elder brother, Anand, went missing. Five days later, the Purohits were informed by the police about the death of Anand. He died after being hit by a speeding train in Nishatpura area.
“That day changed everything for me. I put aside my dream of becoming a CA. Instead, I decided to work to fulfill the dreams of my elder brother, whose body was buried as unclaimed by the police,” recalls Gyanendra. “In childhood, I was Anand bhaiya’s voice. He always wanted me to look smart and confident, as he lived the life of a normal person in me,” he says.
On his brother’s trayodashah (13th day rituals after cremation), his speech-impaired friends assembled in their house to mourn his loss. “I felt he was alive in them and wanted me to fulfill his dreams. I decided to dedicate my life to the memory of Anand bhaiya,” says the 46-year-old.
Gyanendra, then 22, enrolled in Master of Social Work (MSW) in Indore and professionally learnt sign language. He then embarked on a journey across the country to understand the special needs and aspirations of those who are unable to speak or hear.
After marriage four years later with Monica, the couple refocused on their shared idea. In 2001, the couple worked with MP Police to develop Indore’s Tukoganj Police Station as Asia’s first police station for the disabled. The police station has addressed 2,600 complaints of such persons from the state and outside. Most such complaints pertained to sexual abuse and financial fraud. In around 300 of the cases, the accused have been convicted, while around 90 missing speech-impaired people have been reunited with their families.
“My brother wanted to have the country’s national anthem in sign language. This was my first task. Helped by then Indore police inspector Ravi Atroliya (who was already working with the visually challenged) we developed the national anthem in sign language. Amid opposition, it was sung before then MP Governor Bhai Mahavir at an event for the speech impaired in Bhopal in the year 2000.” Undeterred by opposition to his efforts, Gyanendra met then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2003. A few months later, the Centre approved the national anthem in Indian sign languages.
Already working vigorously under the banner of their Indore based NGO Anand Service Society, the couple’s next task was to mainstream speech-impaired students into normal schools. “In 1999, I went to Australia and visited a school in Queensland where normal and speech-impaired students shared classrooms. I decided to make it a reality in Madhya Pradesh. Joined by Monica, we worked endlessly for it in Indore.”
Despite resistance from those in the system, the couple’s efforts finally paid off. The decks were cleared in 2004-05 for mainstreaming the speech-impaired with normal students in Class IX and Class X at government schools in Indore’s Vijay Nagar area. The immediate result was heartening: A speech-impaired student topped the final exams in one of the classes.
Monica says the next big challenge was to ensure jobs for the educated and qualified among the speech-impaired. They have already been given a quota in government jobs along with those with other disabilities. The reserved quota was, however, cornered by the other physically challenged.
“As the state government didn’t help our students who had cleared the test for teachers’ recruitment in MP in 2005, I decided to pursue law and completed the degree in law in 2010 to be able to battle it out in the court,” says Monica. Joined by two other advocates, Gyanendra won the legal battle for employment of the deaf-mute and visually challenged in 2012-2013. The court order forced the state government to recruit the hearing-impaired/visually challenged in posts reserved for them. The couple says over 1,500 speech-impaired persons have got government/non-government jobs, including banks or have secured self-employment.
The couple’s efforts saw the MP and Maharashtra governments making the Brainstem-evoked response audiometry test mandatory for speech-impaired candidates in government recruitment to prevent people with fake eligibility certificates from getting jobs. Both the governments provided reservation to deaf and mute students in Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs).
The Purohit couple drew global attention when the custody of Pakistan-returned speech-impaired girl Geeta was given to them by the district administration in July 2020. Joined by Indore Police, the Purohits spent weeks in tracking Geeta’s possible parents, before Gyanendra with the help of local NGO Pahal Foundation managed to track Geeta’s mother and sister in Parbhani district of Maharashtra in December 2020.
Tale too true to believe
The Purohit couple drew global attention when Pakistan-returned speech-impaired girl Geeta was handed over to them. With the help of local police, the Purohits spent weeks tracking Geeta’s parents. Finally, they found them in Maharashtra
Brother the inspiration
Gyanendra Purohit’s elder brother Anand was speech-impaired. He died in 1997 after being hit by a train. Gyanendra decided that day he would be dedicating his life to help speech-impaired persons in the country. After years of fighting against odds, his efforts have started bearing fruit and getting recognition. Gyanendra can proudly say that he has done something for his late brother by changing the lives of many others like him.