Amrita Dasgupta is a Delhi based film writer and maker. Her movies revolve around education and children. My association with her began three years ago when she was trying to screen her movie The New Girl in the class. Amrita, in her own words.
Time to Share…
The realm of autism and inclusive education was unknown to me until I made the film The New Girl in Class . What stands out in both my past and present film is the perseverance and motivation of the parents.
Every time, The New Girl in Class is screened, the usual question posed is “Why did you make a film on autism? Do you have someone in the family who has autism?” In a full house auditorium of anxious parents and their restless children with autism, my mind races back recollecting a day few years ago.
It was a warm, humid morning in July 2011.The fan whirred slowly at snail’s pace to stop any moment. Wiping the sweat dotting my forehead with my kurta sleeves, I stood facing 70 chattering children. All, seated in snaky rows on the floor. There was not an inch between two children. The last child in each row seemed to be glued to the far end wall. They all had colourful school bags on their laps that served as desks. I was in a chock a block first grade classroom of a local Municipal Corporation of Delhi’s primary school. Beside me, near the doorway, stood a portly, synthetic salwar kameez clad teacher. The teaching space was narrow with a rickety chair and a scribbled dusty blackboard behind. She screamed louder than the fish vendor in the nearby market. But the children chirped on. I was there to recce for my film Let Them Blossom… on pre-primary education.
My eyes roved to one side of the room till it was fixed on a quiet boy fidgeting with his water bottle strap. At a closer look, I noticed with his water bottle lifted in mid air, he was continuously straightening and slackening the strap. The boy was in class but still not there. The teacher followed my gaze; I overheard her saying “Pagal hai!Bolta nahi hai, sunta nahi hai. Lekin anpad Ma baap roz school bhej dete hai mana karne par bhi” (He is crazy, cannot speak or follow instructions. In spite of telling his illiterate parents not to send him to school, they send.) I was taken aback by the insensitivity of the teacher. That day I decided the subject of my next film would be education spaces for children with special needs.
As part of the research for The New Girl in Class, I met several children with autism and their parents. Most parents refused, only a handful would reluctantly share their struggle with the child and the challenges they face. They would speak about their child’s lack communication and social skills. I realized the necessity of a school where the child with autism could mingle with regular children and be accepted by them.
On approaching these parents with the idea to make a film, they would instantly step back. I recognised the stigma associated with a child with autism. The parents had themselves not come to terms with autism and somewhere deep within they were ashamed to face the camera. The only ones eager to share their story was Neeraja and her family. As a close acquaintance, I had witnessed her single-mindedly working with Roshni, making every possible effort to mainstream her life. And after years of trying, the day Roshni got enrolled in Cambridge Primary School, I knew it was time to capture the journey of mother-daughter duo and make it into a film.
Now, when I look at parents and their children with autism, I understand their everyday struggle and continuous quest for solutions to their problems. I realize that acceptance of children with disabilities at school level is critical to create an inclusive and sensitive society for persons with disabilities. The need of the hour is that schools make an extra effort to accommodate the child.
The right to education Act 2009 has the made the provision for inclusion of children with disabilities. But are educational institutions ready to provide these children access to requisite infrastructure and human resource? How many schools give admission to a child with special needs? Even if these children get admission, will they be seated with regular children all through the day and participate in all aspects of school life?
Through the course of my research and filming, I have learnt that children with special needs are no different. They, too have emotions and potential and given an opportunity, they, too, excel. This is possible if the main focus is on their “ability”. The right attitude of the adults and children around these children can nurture a gentle, sensitive and happy society where individuals learn to appreciate as Wordsworth put
“ To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears”