He was born blind in a family where his father trained him to face the larger indifferent world around him. Years later, this grooming would make Haneef Malik a fighter of his and that of his tribe’s rights.
By Sheikh Saqib
With his family of four, Mohammad Haneef Malik lives in a two-storey house, in Baramulla’s non-decrepit parish. The second flight of his house is convincingly incomplete, with no windows and floor covering. But the twenty three year old, battling darkness, hopes to get it done once he acquires what he calls a ‘secure and stable’ job.
Inside his house, he sits against one of the unwashed walls of his bedroom where he’s often seen fiddling with electronic gadgets. He also fixes electronic stuff like torches, mobile phones, heater etc, and sometimes manages to play with sophisticated electronic devices.
Haneef is born blind and currently works as a contractual instructor to people like him in Volunteer Medical Society (VMS) – an institute rehabilitating specially-abled persons across Jammu and Kashmir – in Srinagar’s Bemina area. Unlike others at his workplace, Haneef is the only specially-abled teacher.
Born to a government teacher, Saif-u-din Malik and homemaker Mehtaba Begum in early 1990s, Haneef credits his father for whatever he’s able to do today.
“My father never failed me,” Haneef says with a smile. “He knew that life can never be lived with the help of others so he taught me something which helped me live independently.”
His father used to take out two different coins from his pheran pocket, only to drop them one after another on the uncovered floor, before asking Haneef: Which one I just plunged on the cemented floor?
“Initially I hated this tiring activity but soon after my father died, I realized its importance in my life,” the proud son says. “It vastly improved my listening capacity and helped me judge things by hearing the noise they cause when knocked with a walking stick.”
To train him further, his father would also throw coins in different directions and ask him to look and search for them. And today, he says, he’s able to distinguish the sound of a cup and plate when they go down and can make out the fallen one without seeing it.
Years before, with the assistance of his classmates and teachers, Haneef completed his schooling with normal kids in Andergham Government High School. His classmates would read for him, so that he could write that in Braille and revise at home.
“I had done an adjustment course which also includes Braille during the winter vacation of my 6th standard in Delhi’s All India Blind Congregation Center,” he says. “Learning Braille became a way out for me. But at school I had to face problems because they had no facilities for blind persons to write in Braille and every time during my examinations, I was provided with a scribe who would write my exam on my behalf.”
But the idea of scribe didn’t always work for him and he had to bear the brunt for being blind. “In my Class 12,” he says, “I was even denied a scribe which is making me suffer till date.”
Haneef blames State Board of School Education (BOSE) for denying help to him, despite knowing about his blindness.
“I went from one office to another in order to plead them of providing me a scribe whom I could dictate my answers so that he could write but they just didn’t allow it,” he turns grim. “And when the exams finally came, I had to make several fold on my paper as an alternate to the lines on which one writes, keeping in mind the space within which one is allowed to write. I made folds, wrote on them with guess. But I cannot deny the up down of line and length in my paper I must have caused.”
When the results came out, he was declared fail in one subject. “I went to the then General Secretary BOSE, Ali Mohammad Naqash Sahab, who gave me a patient hearing and asked me to come on the next day so that he could take my exam in front of him,” Haneef recalls.
“The next day he asked me two questions in order to check my ability. I answered him with utmost confidence. He then passed me, without making any addition in my report card.”
His dismal 37% mark percentage since then has proved to be the “biggest curse” of his life, he says.
“I’ve suffered so much because of this,” Haneef laments. “I’m not able to acquire a decent job because of my 12th class percentage. It’s like ‘Lamhoo ne khata ki tou sadyoon ne saza paayi’.”
In the middle of all this chaos in his life, Haneef managed to marry a girl who proposed to him soon after he completed his 10th class exam.
“After my 10th examination, I went to do my diploma in Rashtriya Computers, where a counselor proposed me for marriage. I took some time because I was in the middle of nothing, thinking of how my future would be. I also asked her to take her time and keep in view my blindness and my limitations but to my surprise she kept on insisting and then we married after some time,” Haneef recalls the ‘happy moment’ of his life with a shy smile.
After marriage and subsequently passing Class 12, Haneef decided to pursue his career in Music. He applied for admission in Fine Arts Music College Srinagar, but soon realized that he wasn’t welcomed there.
“I remember my professors ignoring me and giving more attention to normal students,” he rues. “Three months later, I realized that this place is not for me. So I left and went into depression for the next four years. I would think that no one wants to help me and encourage me to stay up and fight for things. People turned me down which added to the pain.”
It was then, one Dr. Maqbool Mir, ENT specialist and the co-founder of VMS, came to his rescue. He helped Haneef to come out of depression and assisted him in availing a scholarship in Delhi University’s Sham Lal College for his graduation.
“For the next four years, I lived in Delhi on that scholarship with ease and gained immense knowledge in the field of Humanities,” Haneef says.
Studying in Delhi made him realize that he’s not the only blind person in the world and that there’re many others, doing good in their lives. “When I learned how a disabled girl from Karnataka against all her odds went on to become an IAS officer, it encouraged me to work on my skills,” he says.
But after coming back to Kashmir, Haneef again faced difficulties, this time, in getting a job for living.
“During that tough period, I kept remembering my father’s words: ‘Ek na ek din manzil saamne aahe Jayegi’, and kept slogging,” he says.
And then, the ‘manzil’ came.
One fine day when he was waiting for a public transport to travel back home from Srinagar, he was given a lift by a person named Mudasir.
“He was a state coordinator with Handicap International. After getting my introduction, he asked me if I can join his next project with VMS and work for visually impaired. I could not believe it, and immediately agreed to work,” Haneef recalls his cherished moment.
Haneef was shortly called for an interview at VMS. He qualified and soon joined the eight-month-long project on a salary of Rs 14,000 per month.
“During that project we rehabilitated near about sixty blind persons. I introduced adjustment courses there which include Activities of Daily Life (ADL), Braille, mobility etc,” Haneef says. “This proved very helpful. After my eight-month-long contract ended, the VMS retained me as their instructor, with monthly salary of Rs 7,000.”
Even though Haneef gets paid for what he does at VMS but these days he’s finding it hard to meet the ends. He invests Rs 4,000 alone in his bus fare to and fro per month. The rest goes to his children’s education and daily essentials.
“My son is often thrown out of school because most of the times I am not able to pay for his education,” says Haneef, sitting beside his 12-year-old son, Faizan. “People might judge me for wearing decent clothes and think I am doing fine in my life but only Allah knows my plight.”
His repeated pleas for official help based on his qualification have so far fallen on deaf ears. “I approached advisor to governor, who referred my file to Secretary social welfare, Dr. Farooq. Then he transferred the file to Commissioner Disability, Iqbal Lone. The file was finally sent to Jammu and Kashmir Bank chairman, Parvez Ahmad. Since then I don’t know what happened to it,” Haneef says.
He wants to visit Jammu to plead for his case, but lacks travel expenses.
“We don’t have a system in place here otherwise things could have been easy for people like me,” he says. “Some ten years back, Composed Regional Center promised to set up a school for disabled persons in the valley, but it’s still nowhere. Whenever some minister visits the place where it was to be set up, they call us and tell us to register ourselves. This has been going for since a long but nothing is happening. They limit everything to papers and never want to work practically. They have got the funds but no one knows where those funds have gone.”
Fighting for the welfare of his tribe in Kashmir, Haneef says that there should be at least a school in every district for specially-abled persons, so that they can continue their education and achieve their desired goals. “Also,” he asserts, “there should be workshops where people like us can enhance our skills and work for ourselves and earn a decent living.”
For his sheer ability to fight the dark world, rather than becoming its victim, Haneef Malik has today become an embodiment of courage and hope. Fighting darkness is what he calls the guiding light of his life.