A 21-year-old boy, suffering from dyslexia, jumped to his death Tuesday afternoon in New Delhi. He had been battling depression for sometime, his uncle said.
Son of a senior army official, the 21-year-old Shwetabh Nagar, was seen jumping off the fifth floor of a multilevel parking lot in the Indian capital. Frantic attempts were made to save him, but he died on the way to the hospital.
The immediate provocation behind the suicide was not known, but judging by some notes recovered from Shwetabh's car, it was obvious that he was suffering from a writing disorder, police said. "His handwriting was hardly legible. In fact, he had photocopied notes from someone else to study," said an officer.
Such was the kind of interaction between the dyslexic boy and his parents that his mother did not even know he had left home in his car earlier in the day. When police broke the news of his death to her, she fainted. His father too was away in Kashmir, working on a special project.
Shwetabh was pursuing a degree in mass communications from the Asian School of Media Studies at Noida. Though not bright academically, he was nevertheless a brilliant photographer and excelled in computer-aided designing, it is said.
Amarpal Nagar, his uncle, said Shwetabh was an introvert. While he had made some friends in Udaipur, where his father, Brigadier Sripal Nagar, was posted earlier, he had no friends in Delhi.
Due to his dyslexia, he had problems reading and writing since childhood. He failed to clear his Class XII board exams from Central School, Udaipur, three years ago. He had also changed schools a number of times as his father's job is transferable.
The boy had been treated twice earlier for depression brought about by his below-average academic performance.
He was also teased about his height. At 18, he towered over others with his 6 ft 3 inches and 90kg frame.
His uncle said that Shwetabh decided to opt for mass communications as it did not require much reading and writing and had secured reasonably good marks in his exams at the college.
This is the seventh suicide by a student in the city in the past 10 days, the Times of India reports.
Experts stress that sensitisation towards the needs of special children is essential. Says Aruna Broota, a professor in the psychology department of the Delhi University, "Such children face a tremendous amount of rejection from the world around them. As a result, they develop hostility towards others as well as a negative concept of the self. Most experience a sense of isolation."
Broota cites the example of a girl with a writing disability. "The school refused to give her a writer for the exams, even though she was entitled to one as per rules. Most schools are not even aware of the learning disabilities like dyslexia. Sensitisation is very necessary," she said.
The struggle starts early. Parents note that getting admission is an uphill task, with most schools refusing to take in dyslexics as it could negatively impact the class results.
Says the parent of a six-year-old, "My child has a learning disability and getting admission has been extremely difficult. Most schools don't have the facilities for such students. Others that have facilities want to put them in a separate classroom. Why segregate them like this?"
Usha Ram, principal, Laxman Public School, admits that inclusive education is still a distant dream in the city.
"Awareness is the need of the hour. Most schools don't even have special educators, which is a necessity," Ram says.
"In our school, students with learning disabilities have been put in mainstream classes, except in the case of some subjects." This, she says, has been possible because of special educators who cater to their needs. "Once the government makes it mandatory for schools to have special educators, differently abled children can be accommodated anywhere," Ram adds.
Integrating differently abled children into the mainstream is also a major problem. Rachna (name changed) has a child, who is dyslexic, in a primary class of an elite school in Delhi. She claims that her child has shown marked improvement and she now wants her to be included with other mainstream students.
"But the school refuses to do so. They've turned my child into a poster student for their differently abled class instead," laments the parent. "The school actually claims it doesn't have the resources and doesn't want to take the risk of my daughter relapsing and failing in a normal class. We're helpless."
Even in schools which have a provision for special educators, there is the perennial problem of trained manpower.
"The ratio of teacher to student has to be strictly followed if you want to impart quality education to children with special needs," says Ram.
"This is one reason why schools which offer inclusive education often charge exorbitant fees. The government needs to step in and take some concrete measures to tackle the stiuation."