When Shaheel Mohammad was threee years old, he was diagnosed with poliomyelitis - an infectious viral disease that affects the central nervous system and can cause temporary or permanent paralysis.
Hailing from south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, Shaheel was bedridden for a long time after the first level of medications. After recovering a bit, he was first home-schooled and then got enrolled in a school with the help of his father, who worked as a teacher.
“I passed all my grades with flying colours. I excelled in my whole class and it encouraged me. It gave me encouragement,” he said.
Initially, he said, there was no awareness among the people of his village related to specially-abled children. “They often looked down to me. Even my school teachers were hesitant in assigning me different tasks that sound students do,” he said.
The 32-year-old Shaheel was interested in education from early age and was positive towards it. During his school years, he would lead his class due to which he got exposed to many things.
“Life is always a struggle. And when a person is specially-abled, with some social or physical problems, this struggle worsens. The battles of life faced by disabled people are tougher than normal humans,” he said.
Shaheel’s outstanding performance in academics and in extracurricular activities impressed his teachers and slowly they adapted to his positive mind set.
He used to participate in debates, quizzes, events and other activities. This helped him to change the vision and perception of being a specially-abled child.
After passing his 12th class examination, he went to college and completed his graduation with flying colours. Later, Shaheel joined Kashmir University to pursue a three year degree in law which was the turning point of his life and which also changed him a lot.
“At the university I met a lot of specially abled students. We interacted with each other and we would stay at hostel happily,” he said.
As a law student, Shaheel realized the rights of specially-abled students were not getting recognized. At this stage of his life, he also realized that there was a hell of a difference between his school, college and university life. “I got to know about his rights and responsibilities towards society. It made him more civilized,” he said.
At the varsity, the Shaheel and other specially-abled students made a group and they would often approach the varsity authorities for their basic needs.
“I recognized loopholes in the environment around me that motivated me to do something for specially-abled people. I, along with my other classmates established a unit for specially abled. We first made a friendly atmosphere at the campus. It was like installing slope stairs cases at corners, ramps and so on. This change in infrastructure helped a lot and laid a foundation for specially-abled students to feel free, and move anywhere around the campus. For five consecutive years of hard work and determination, we finally succeeded in changing the infrastructure as per the needs of the specially abled,” he said.
When he completed law, he approached higher authorities and brought the issues of specially abled students to the University authorities. After serious considerations, a specially-abled cell was created at Kashmir University.
Later, Shaheel was appointed as a coordinator for this cell in 2009 and to date, he is continuing with it as his profession. The cell has now been established as a resource centre for specially-abled students.
“There I continue to ease the problems of students whether it is related to admission or making arrangements for their hostel accommodation,” he said.
The establishment of the special cell has helped to implement reservation policy for the specially-abled students. “Many specially-abled students were barred from taking admission in professional courses and we also workedto give them equal admissions there,” he said.
The special cell also organizes different kinds of programs and competitions for the special abled students in order to exhibit their talent.
“Some specially-abled students are interested in music and arts. Many such students are working in many organizations which is very encouraging,” he said.
The cell also helps to implement all the welfare schemes for the specially-abled students.
Shaheel said Kashmir University is the first such institution that provides free education to specially-abled students and they are exempted from admission and examination fee.
“We also give them priority in post metric scholarships in case of academic courses and merit cum means scholarships in case of professional courses. Also among meritorious students first two rank holder students are also given special scholarships,” he said.
Shaheel said for him accessibility has always proved very negative for him. Though his family was well educated and they helped him. It was difficult for him to manage travelling from Anantnag to Srinagar. Keeping that in view, he proposed the matter to those in authority and ultimately car batteries were approved in the campus.
Three vehicles from J&K Bank were donated for specially-abled students. It helped them to go from one department to another in less time and even provided them pick and drop service to their respective hostels. Overall it was of great help to the students.
“It was during the Covid-19 period that I understood the need to rely on my own in travelling. I started to drive my automatic car with a little bit of modification and am living independently on my own. It doesn’t matter whether good things come to us sooner or later, the moment it arrives is the right time to cherish it,” Shaheel said.
He considers the establishment of a specially-abled cell at the University of Kashmir as his greatest achievement.
“My aim in life since childhood has been to contribute back to society in one way or the other. I wanted to repay whatever good I got from society. I feel blessed to help students that are in need,” he said.
Shaheel, although, is disappointed with the facilities that the government is providing to specially-abled people in universities and colleges.
Currently, he lives with his family and kids and considers his students an important part of his life. Regarding the negativity and small minds, he said he doesn’t actually care what others think of him. He knows better how to stand on his own and handle those negative thinkers.
He agrees with the fact that people with disability have a stigma related to what society thinks about them. But one should bear in mind that we make the society, so if we think positive it will definitely scatter optimism all the way around.
His office at Kashmir University remains busy with felicitations of specially-abled students which earned him good fame. “Whenever I see students who needs help I go to them and talk. I feel happy that at least I am helping others,” he said.