This is Mahantesh, a blind who leads the blind and creates opportunities for them in the mainstream


“I was born in the farming village of Sisiri in Belgaum district,” says Mahantesh GK. “A few months before I was born, my 30-member joint family started decorating the house, sculpting wooden birds and clay toys and painting clay lamps for the D-Day. I was the first child of the generation. Everybody’s hopes were pinned on me.” At the age of two, his family noticed that their son couldn’t see. A series of treatments, including giving the four-year-old a ‘fire treatment’ where his forehead was seared with hot iron rods in an attempt to stimulate his optical nerve, proved unsuccessful. The scars around Mahantesh’s eyes are still visible.

Image: The Hindu

The first setback Mahantesh faced was refusal to be admitted to the village school. For four years, he was only allowed to sit on the last bench and listen to what was being taught. Surprisingly, that was enough.”I started solving mathematics orally. By the time I was six, I could recite tables up to 250.” He picked up English. Mahantesh developed an obsessive craze for cricket by listening to the commentary on radio. “My uncle and I had a deal. I could use the transistor to listen to commentary as long as I called him with an hourly update,” he says. His parents moved him to a school for the disabled in Bangalore. Mahantesh, then 14, started playing cricket and persuaded the school to hire a coach. He went on to play for and eventually captain the Indian cricket team for the blind and toured England in 1998. He later co-founded the National Cricket Board for the Blind, which is now helping organise an international T20 cricket tournament, reports Hindustan Times.

Mahantesh is the founder of Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled. It is a non-profit organisation that works for the differently-abled and is based in Bengaluru. Samarthanam supports the visually impaired, disabled and underprivileged to keep in pace with the rest of the society by providing quality education, accommodation, nutritious food, vocational training and placement-based rehabilitation. The long-term focus of Samarthanam is shaping an inclusive society that provides opportunities, without any discrimination, for the development of the visually impaired, disabled and underprivileged people. The Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled is an associate member of the World Blind Union, Geneva.

A global technology company has provided targeted funding to enhance the state-of-the-art computer lab run by Samarthanam. The lab is part of the newly constructed block of Samarthanam which was inaugurated in the presence of the Union Minister for Social Justice & Empowerment, Thawar Chand Gehlot, and Union Chemicals and Fertilizer Minister, Ananth Kumar, who praised the efforts of the Trust in empowering ‘differently-abled’ citizens in the state. The company’s funding of “Dialer Software”, which will be used via JAWS (Job Access with Speech) software, will help blind and visually impaired users to read screens either by text-to-speech output or by a refreshable braille display. It will enable Samarthanam to employ over 40 visually challenged individuals, reports The Financial Express.

Image: Kirana BP

To empower rural people with disabilities and create job opportunities for them, Samarthanam launched Kirana, a rural BPO centre, in Bidadi. Set up in association with the State-run Karnataka Biotechnology and Information Services (KBITS), the rural call centre will provide jobs to 100 disabled and rural youth in and around Bidadi. Mahantesh said the centre will host disabled friendly workstations and infrastructure. “It will be supported by Samarthanam’s strong network of well-wishers in the telecom industry, financial institutions, multinational corporations and government agencies,” he said. The centre is being supported by Hewlett Packard and T.E. Connectivity, apart from the KBITS. “We have requested several mainstream corporate sector companies to outsource their work to Kirana. In 2010, the trust had started Shrishti, call centre training units in Bangalore and Hubli. This was set up in association with the State Department of Welfare of the Disabled and Senior Citizens, Union Ministries of Personnel and Public Grievances and Pensions and Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances, reports The Hindu.

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