New Delhi: Kartik Sawhney can't stop smiling. He's just scored 96% in Class 12 exams of the Central Board, topping the category of differently-abled students. And now he is all set to go to the Stanford University in the US on a full scholarship to pursue his computer science degree.
What's ironic is that Kartik, who is visually impaired, always wanted to study at the IITs. But he couldn't take the exam since he wasn't given any special assistance he needed to appear for the IIT-JEE exam.
"Why can't we understand the practical difficulties that differently-abled students face and why can't we accommodate such students and let them compete?" Kartik told NDTV.
Kartik's concerns are exactly those reflected in the UNICEF's latest 'State of the World Children' report that focuses on the obvious but urgent need to allow differently-abled children to hone their talents. The report also points to the need to recognize the rights of such children.
The lack of this awareness affects a large number of children in India. Census 2011 figures for the differently-abled are still being computed, but the last Census says there are 22 million persons with disabilities in India of which 5.7 million are children. It also says one in every four children in India is disabled.
UNICEF India representative Louis Georges Arsenault blames "social stigma" for the lack of opportunities for the differently-abled in the country. "There is social stigma...parents themselves don't give information about it. So they (children with disabilities) don't exist, they don't have a birth certificate, they don't attend school and are not part of the census. So we have to start from the beginning."
Disability rights activists in India have for long been fighting for inclusive education. But unfortunately, they say, Right to Education is often forgotten when it comes to children who need it the most.