Ajit Kumar Yadav’s Enduring Vision



Ajit kumar

Ajit Kumar

In the scenic northeastern town of Ambassa, Ajit Kumar Yadav is meeting four men at his spacious office. They are seeking Yadav’s permission to organize a political rally in Ambassa, the headquarters of Tripura’s Dhalai district. Yadav listens patiently.
“Make sure there are no traffic jams or law-and-order problems,” he warns. “No loss to property. Any inconvenience to anyone, and you’ll be fined!”
Yadav is the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) of Ambassa, far from his native Kheri village in Haryana, where the 35-year-old government official began his arduous journey. Ajit Kumar Yadav, IAS, is totally blind.
Thirty years ago, Ajit suffered a weeklong bout of fever and diarrhea when he had just begun primary school. One night he woke up to realize that his eyesight had gone. The little boy was taken to several doctors, even to local faith healers, but nothing helped. Finally, an eminent doctor declared that getting his eyesight back was impossible. To this day Ajit has no idea what the illness was, but the doctor ruled out surgery, explaining that it could lead to memory loss or paralysis.
Ajit went from being a carefree child to a handicapped person. His friends stopped coming over to play. He would hear his mother weeping as he sat helplessly with his four siblings. “I missed school, the butterflies I ran after, the flowers,” he recalls.
His uncle Parshuram Yadav, a retired armyman, started home-schooling Ajit. “Besides teaching me arithmetic and other subjects, he told me inspiring stories about Swami Vivekananda, Subhash Chandra Bose and other great men. I realized that the key to independence lay in educating myself.”
By age eight, Ajit was sent to a New Delhi boarding school for visually impaired students. He was homesick at first, but soon learnt to find his way about, bathe and dress without help. “After some initial escorting, I could go by myself between my classroom and the boarding-house,” he says. As the days went by, his other senses grew sharper. “I could tell when a glass was full from the changing tone of water being poured into it. I began to recognize people from the sounds of their footsteps. The smell of cooking told me exactly how far I was from the dining hall.”
While the other boys slept, Ajit would be up at 4am practising his reading and writing, with special
paper and a Braille pen. “I became so fond of my books that I’d spend over 12 hours studying every day.” Ajit topped his class year after year.
By Class Nine, he was moved to the nearby Rani Jhansi Government School, where his schoolmates were sighted children. “I felt left out at first,” he recalls. “But when my academic work was appreciated, I felt no different from the others. So far I’d been writing exams in Braille, but now I could dictate my answers to a writer.”
Ajit hated to be pitied and always wanted to be treated like everyone else. His favourite subject was mathematics, but he also enjoyed history, civics and economics. In 1997, Ajit topped his school in the Class Ten board exams and received an award from the principal.
Moving to Delhi’s Springdales School for his Plus Two, the medium of instruction suddenly changed from Hindi to English. “I began listening to English news on the radio and asked my new friends to talk to me in English even if I couldn’t respond properly,” recalls Ajit. Gradually, he started scoring good grades in English too and went on to college.
By 2003, having earned his BA in political science and a BEd, Ajit was back home in Kheri, this time as a teacher in the local government school. “My father, mother and uncle were all overjoyed to see me stand on my own feet. But most others couldn’t accept that I had the ability to teach their children.
“Granted, they had never seen a blind teacher before, but I gradually won their confidence,” recalls Ajit.
“I also urged my colleagues to stop corporal punishment altogether. Students used to be taught with just books and guides. I added charts, maps and a globe. Gradually, even the slower kids scored good marks.”
This did not go down well with other teachers. “They ridiculed me,” he recalls, “I felt powerless, but as the school’s juniormost teacher, it seemed futile trying to make too many changes.”
One morning, when his uncle was reading the day’s newspaper to Ajit, he learnt about an IAS officer from Haryana who had brought about many changes after daring to take on the corrupt and powerful. Ajit later heard over the radio that blind people were eligible to join the IAS. These revelations inspired him to set a new goal.
Ajit sat for the 2006 Civil Services Examination, which selects candidates for the IAS and allied government services. But he didn’t qualify-there wasn’t enough study material in Braille in the village. Meanwhile, he got an MA through private study. He also passed a University Grants Commission (UGC) test that qualified him to teach in college. “I didn’t have sufficient study material even for the UGC test, so I asked a former schoolmate Begram Singh, who is also blind, to get me books from the All India Confederation of the Blind in Delhi,” he says. Ajit moved back to Delhi as an assistant professor in Shyam Lal College. He applied for the Civil Services again, but the college didn’t give him permission in time to write the exams!
It only deepened Ajit’s resolve. It didn’t matter that his legs ached after lecturing on his feet all day. And there was a long and exhausting bus commute. Ajit stayed up late reading or listening to audiotapes of study material. It paid off. Ajit passed the Civil Services exam in 2009, securing the 208th rank out of 791 candidates selected, which qualified him easily for the IAS.
It seemed like a lucky year for Ajit. Just before that, he’d also married his sweetheart Manisha Mudgal, who is sighted and aspires to join the IAS.
But, very soon, Ajit was in for a shock. He was told to settle for the lesser Indian Railway Personnel
Service. “They said that only the partially blind are eligible for the IAS, not someone like me,” says Ajit, “It was ludicrous!” A 2005 central government order said that one percent of openings in the IAS was reserved for visually impaired candidates. Yet Ajit was denied that right. For weeks he tried to meet the authorities, but nobody gave him an appointment. Disheartened, he filed a case with the Central Administrative Tribunal, which ruled in his favour. Even so he didn’t get any call.
That’s when The Hindu reported his plight. Reading it, Rajya Sabha MP Brinda Karat arranged a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who heard him out. “Your achievement is great,” Singh assured Ajit. “I will look into this.”
Three days later, Ajit was asked to report for training. He joined the 2012 IAS batch at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie-almost three years after his selection, but with no loss of seniority.
“I haven’t met many people who are as determined and hard working as Ajit,” says his friend Begram, now an assistant professor in Saharanpur, UP. Begram also talks of how Ajit is forever helpful. “In college he gave away books and audio cassettes to any blind student who couldn’t afford them. If he took a rickshaw, he made sure he always tipped the rickshawala a little extra. When I was short of money, he lent me his books and tapes, even paid my college fees. Until I too got a job, Ajit ensured there was no disruption in my education for want of money. His generous, can-do spirit has motivated me.”
Now, on his first assignment, Ajit Kumar Yadav has been Ambassa’s SDM since May last year. Being blind is no setback, if you hear him explain how technology helps. “I use JAWS [the Jobs Access with Speech software] to listen to any text or official document on my computer screen,” he says. He also uses it to hear any content on the internet or to read and send e-mails. This way, Ajit even helped Reader’s Digest efficiently fact-check this article.
The day when he could not venture out has become history. Yadav often goes on inspection rounds to ensure that shops don’t stock expired food products or fake medicines; to check on black-marketing in ration shops or to catch hoteliers who use domestic LPG cylinders for their business. He’s tough and offenders are duly fined. Recently, he also stopped the marriage of a minor orphan girl and booked the 40-year-old groom for the crime.
In Ambassa, Ajit has also been battling malaria through awareness campaigns. And his own teaching experience comes handy in improving the quality of education in government schools, something he once couldn’t do in his own village. Ajit has encouraged play-based methods for smaller kids, regular PTA meetings and more practical aids in classrooms.
“Ajit is sincere and hard-working,” says Milind Ramteke, the Dhalai district magistrate. “Of course, he cannot go to some inaccessible areas but wherever he goes, his output is as good as that of any other officer.”
“Most people are unaware of the fact that a disabled person can work efficiently,” says Ajit Kumar Yadav. “If you want to bring about a change in someone’s life, you need to add motivation. I was lucky to have my uncle whose inspiring words and stories gave me confidence. But having got my dream job isn’t everything.” He means that with a long career ahead, his work has only just begun.