Last Wednesday, the air-conditioned office of Delhi University’s Dean of Students’ Welfare was a building people stepped into just to escape from the sun. Fakir Chand was sweating, and it was more from trepidation than heat. “I have all the documents,” he says, approaching Komal Kamra, member of the University’s Equal Opportunity Cell. “Except the college-leaving certificate. Those people at the Lady Shri Ram College said that my daughter does not need one,” says Chand, taking out a pair of glasses from the pocket of his shirt.
Kamra, who uses a wheelchair, looks on silently as Chand carefully opens his spectacles: the left-side is a spider-web of cracked glass. He puts them on, and begins to rummage through a white cloth bag slung on his left forearm. The Equal Opportunity Cell has the mandate of working with Persons with Disabilities (PwD) and students admitted under the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Other Backward Classes quotas. It counsels PwD candidates at the office of the Dean of Students’ Welfare as they fill up their registration forms for admission to the University’s colleges. This year, the registration went on from May 28-June 8. About 450 students have registered under the Persons with Disabilities quota for a total of 1,600 seats.
The yellow-coloured paper is not difficult to find among a lifetime’s certificates kept inside the polythene cover. “But this is something we gave you last year after you registered,” Kamra says after examining the paper. “Where is your daughter?” she asks, looking around. Now, this was Chand’s problem. He had all the documents for admission, but his daughter was not with him. “She came in a different train, and I have not been able to locate her,” he says. Sweating.
His daughter, Dharamwati, blind since birth, had been admitted to the prestigious Lady Shri Ram College last year. “She got what she asked for: the college, as well as the History course. They could not give her the hostel, though. Most of it was closed for the Commonwealth Games,” says Chand. Chand’s visually challenged daughter did not last a month in Delhi: “She tried staying with a friend and her mother near the college, but could not adjust.” So on August 13, less than a month after classes began at the University, Chand withdrew his daughter and took her back home to Bijnor.
“I sent her to Delhi yesterday along with a relative. I arrived only this morning, as I had some work left back in Bijnor,” says Chand, who is a salesman with a pharmaceutical company. “I got off the train and went straight to (Lady) Shri Ram College, because Dharamwati needs the college-leaving certificate. I was told that we didn’t need one, as she withdrew before August 15,” says Chand, as he borrows a mobile phone to dial a number written on a piece of paper. Dharamwati’s phone is ‘out of coverage area.’
Kamra assures Chand he can come back with his daughter even a day late. “Today is the last date for registrations,” he reminds her. She smiles: “It’s okay. Just find your daughter and come with her tomorrow. She has to choose the college and course herself.” Out of the Dean’s office, Chand continues to worry about his daughter. Loudly, too. “She’s my third child. The ones older than her got married,” he says, trying Dharamwati’s number repeatedly.
A hand clutches Chand’s arm. “Papa.” It turns out that the daughter and relative—Arun, who refuses to take off his denim baseball cap—had figured that Chand would be in the University. Dharamwati’s phone had run out of cash. Back inside the DSW office, Chand sheepishly explains to the student counsellors how his daughter located him because of his loud voice. After a long search for documents, during which the counsellors had to send Dharamwati’s mark sheets for copying, they are allotted a number in the queue. “It’s 47. We have to come back in an hour,” says Chand, on his way out for lunch. Dharamwati is busy running her fingers over the information brochure, in braille, that the counsellors have given her.
The company of three is back in 30 minutes, and wait outside the door uncertainly. Token number 30 is yet to be called. Chand walks around, fiddling with the unbuttoned sleeves of his aquamarine shirt. There are two holes—possibly made by a cigarette—on its bottom-left. Dharamwati has decided to play her cards close to chest: she wouldn’t say whether she will opt for Lady Shri Ram College again. “Last year, my percentage of 85 was very good. I am told this time a lot of students have scored better marks,” is all that she will say. Dharamwati passed out of the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped in Dehra Dun, which she joined in class III.
The wait, the sun, and the suspense of it all gets to Chand. “I do not know of any college except (Lady) Shri Ram. I just want her to get into a college with a hostel,” he says. And then adds a caveat: “a girls’ college with a hostel.” The number is finally called at 3.30 p.m., and only Dharamwati and Arun go to the registration desk. “It’s best I don’t interfere; I don’t understand all these things,” he says, giving the white cloth bag to Arun, thus parting with it for the first time in the day. “It’s good if she can study here. UP colleges do not know how to accommodate blind students. They don’t have facilities for them, they don’t even give them scribes for exams,” he says, to no one in particular.
One would have thought Dharamwati’s smile could not get any brighter, until she emerged from the registration room. She’s pulled a fast one; and has chosen Indraprastha College for Women as her priority. History is still her favourite subject, mostly because it is an ‘easy’ optional for the Civil Services exams. “My second preference is Miranda House,” she says, adding, “I have chosen Lady Shri Ram too, but it’s not on top.”
The smile is firmly in place.