Swagat Thorat has been running India’s first Braille newspaper since February 2008. His 50-page Marathi newspaper Sparshdnyan, meaning ‘knowledge by touch’, is published on the 1st and 15th of every month and has a dedicated reader base. Swagat says –
“We started with 100 copies and have now grown to publish 400 issues every fortnight, which are gifted to schools and NGO working for the visually challenged across the 31 districts of Maharashtra. Each issue is read by almost 60 people, which makes the readership of the issue more than 24,000.”
Swagat had a fulfilling childhood, and had very little exposure to the problem he is solving today. He followed his passions to become an acclaimed wildlife photographer, playwright, director, and painter.
His tryst with darkness began in 1993 when Swagat conceptualised and wrote a documentary ‘Kallokhatil Chandane’, based on the educational methods of the visually challenged. While working with the visually challenged for the documentary he made for Doordarshan’s Balchitra Vahini, he slowly got exposed to the world they lived in.
As he started spending more time with the visually impaired, he soon realised how talented and artistically capable they were. Swagat started working with them, and in 1997 he directed a play ‘Swatantryachi Yashogatha’, which entered the Guinness Book of World Records for involving 88 visually challenged artists who collaborated to make his play highly acclaimed by viewers and critics alike.
While doing shows for the play, Swagat travelled with his talented cast and crew, and was amazed to find how interested they were in reading books. They had serious shortage of books in the Braille language. “They told me that they wanted to read, but books were not available. They asked me for help and I decided to oblige,” recalls Swagat.
Swagat soon edited and gifted three special Braille issues of ‘Sparshgandh’, a magazine he started. Swagat also edited a special edition of Pu La Deshpande’s writings with the help of the famous author’s wife, Sunita Thakur, who was an accomplished writer too. He also directed Pu La Deshpande’s famous play, ‘Teen PaishachaTamasha’, based on Bertolt Brecht’s Three Penny Opera, with 44 visually challenged artists.
Bursts of singular action didn’t satisfy Swagat, who wanted to go beyond one-time activities and do something substantial and fundamental for his blind friends. He decided to start a newspaper in Braille, India’s first, and started building the infrastructure for it, which included raising funds, and procuring the Braille printing machines. The first issue of his newspaper Sparshdnyan was published in February 2008.
Since then, Swagat’s Sparshdnyan has focussed on helping the visually impaired touch and feel the world they live in, by exposing them to current affairs, concerns centering wildlife conservation, environment, political movements, social issues, international affairs, inspiring biographies, and education and career options. Since March 2012, Swagat has also been working as a Chief Editor of a Hindi Braille fortnightly ‘Reliance Drishti’ published by the Reliance Foundation. When asked about the challenges he has faced this far, Swagat smiles –
“I have always tried to see every challenge as an opportunity. In Marathi we have a saying which means that you survive only if you read. I strongly believe that human struggle is not confined to roti, kapda, and makan. It goes much beyond that. Reading has helped my readers improve their daily lives, and it has made them more confident. Over years, I have seen their personalities change.”
Swagat is an acclaimed wildlife photographer too. He has visited over 50 national parks and 300 wildlife sanctuaries all over the country and has shot more than 1 lakh photographs and 400 hours of professional video on wildlife. He has visited over 300 schools educating children about wildlife conservation using the videos and photographs he shoots. He has conducted animal census in the Ranthambore National Park, the Jim Corbett National Park, and the Sundarbans. He is currently working on a documentary on Kashmir’s wildlife diversity.
Swagat’s love for theater continues. He has directed and brought on the stage, ‘Tritiya Netra’, a social drama, penned by Jyotirao Phule, depicting exploitation of backward classes resulting from them being deprived of education. It is through Swagat’s efforts that the play has been staged for the first time in 146 years since it was written. At present, he is directing a Marathi and Hindi film based on the play.
His work has received many awards such as Natyagaurav Puraskar, Maharashtra Deep Puraskar, Sneha Puraskar, Rajeev Gandhi Puraskar, Salute Mumbai award by In Channel and the ‘Real Hero’ award by CNN IBN channel. Despite the awards and accolades that came his way, humility is the virtue he holds dearest.
Even today, Swagat dedicates most of his time in running his publications and developing and spreading the Braille language, which he has taught to hundreds of people. He believes that work and compassion are the only way forward for a brighter tomorrow.
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