A voluntary organisation in Gujarat has spearheaded a movement to empower mentally challenged students to earn their own living.
Astha, a voluntary organisation for mentally challenged students, is situated 30 km away from Ahmedabad. It has enrolled 45 special students, who have been encouraged to learn how to make their own living.
There are several schools that specialize in training such kids till they turn 18 years of age. However, Astha is the only such organisation in the country that provides such an opportunity for those above 18 years of age.
"These students want work and without work they don't feel good. They do whatever we ask them to do. Once we tell them they do that work for the entire day and work perfectly," said Nirmalaben Shah, the head of Astha.
These students make floating candles, paper covers, mouth-fresheners, rakhi and friendship bands.
This year, they are also making special kits for Diwali, which will contain their products like the mouth-freshener, floating candles and paper covers.
These kits will be priced at Rs 100 and will hit the market soon.
"They are very independent. They are actively involved in lots of things, which they can produce and sell in the name of Astha. They make rakhi, friendship bands, Diwali gifts like diyas," said Vaishali Shah, a social worker.
Products made by these students are publicised through word-of-mouth.
These mentally challenged students are also quite happy with their routine, and the independence it gives them.
"At 2.00 p.m. we have lunch time. Then we work again. Then have a tea break. At 3.00 pm we play. Then we go home at 4.00 pm," said Saujas, a student.
There are 10 lakh people, who are challenged in Gujarat, out of which approximately 3000 reside in Ahmedabad.
Recent surveys show that three percent of India's children are mentally challenged, with girls at a particular risk to violence and abuse.
Activists have long campaigned that support must extend to schools allowing for a much larger number of children to avail help.
Though laws make it mandatory for all schools to treat special children at par with the regular ones, many private-run institutes flout rules and cases of such children being refused admission are not uncommon.