Mentally Strong

Mentally Strong

With Diwali season in full swing, a few students of Thane are busy preparing agarbattis (incense sticks), diyas and greeting cards. These students are quite skillful and the wonderful part is that most of the products they create reflect a high quality that makes them worthy of being sold. What’s even more wonderful is that these are mentally challenged students.

St John The Baptist School for Children in Need of Special Care is one such institute that helps mentally retarded children to become as self-sufficient as they can. Apart from teaching them the regular academic curriculum, the institute provides vocational training. Supervisor Maryann Scott displays tremendous love, care and most importantly, patience to take care of her special students while they are taught various skills such as grinding masalas, sewing clothes, painting, making candles, rakhis etc. Of course, for teachers of these students, patience is more than just a virtue – it’s also a qualification that is more important than any academic degree.

A "mentally retarded person" is a highly misunderstood element of our society. Often viewed as derogatory, most people assume that persons with mental retardation are not capable of learning or caring for themselves. However, children with mental retardation can learn a great deal, and as adults can lead at least partially independent lives. Most importantly, they can enjoy their lives just as everyone else.

Psychiatrist and neuroscientist Nancy Andreasen says her book Brave New Brain, "Our brains are constantly rewiring themselves so that we very literally change our minds." Yes, with a little help, even the mentally challenged persons have the potential to literally "change their minds" and overcome the difficulties allowing them to grow naturally and develop normal abilities.

Gender Bias
Hijras, who are generally known in the west as hermaphrodites or eunuchs, have been part of the Indian society for thousands of years. According to one estimate there are approximately 1 million Hijras spread across India.

As a minority community, they are condemned and even despised due to their sexual difference. Despite this, traditionally the Hijras have played an important role as entertainers and as owners of curses and blessings. They are also hired to dance at weddings and to celebrate the arrival of newborn babies. Shunted by the society, this is the only source of income left to them.

Lately though, a few Hijras have started resorting force or what can be termed as mild form of extortion, to get money. A recent episode substantiates this trend. Sharanam, a new hotel in the vicinity of RTO, Thane, held its inaugural function on the auspicious day of Dassera. Towards the afternoon, about 20 Hijras found their way to the Hotel. They went past the security guards and surrounded the porch. The guards (who were deputed at the venue by a well-known security agency) looked helpless and some of them were actually terrified of having to deal with Hijras.

When one of the Hotel owners was informed of the scene outside, he personally went to the porch to settle the matter. The Hijras demanded money, on which he offered Rs. 250. They flatly refused saying that they would not budge for less than Rs. 5000. By then a few more Hijras had joined the gang. The Hijras threatened that they will get a few dozen more if they are not given their due for the propitious "blessings" that they have showered on the new venture which, according them, is "nothing less than the Taj".

But the owners of the Hotel were unyielding and did not offer anything more than what they already had and after almost two hours of uproar, the Hijras left with nothing!

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