Rajinder Johar : A life of inspiration | Vidya Bhushan Rawat
The life of Rajinder Johar is victory of human spirit despite all impossibilities that situation put on people. Those of us, who have known to him over twenty years became his admirer for his never die positive attitude which ultimately became his vision in founding FOD i.e, Family of Differently Abled which not only gave hopes to many but also suggested a new dawn for people with facing physical challenges. Even if he was bedridden since March 1986, his guided FOD and started the magazine The Voice which was quarterly but gave us glimpse of his thoughts and activities. I personally was fond of his humour.
Dr Johar was based in Lucknow and was a senior occupational therapist in the prestigious medical King George Medical college of the city. A successful doctor with his two children his was a happy family but one incident changed his life forever. On the night of March 30th, 1986, it was Sunday evening when some goons barged his home and fired indiscriminately. The fire pierced his chest and neck. He was rushed to the hospital and though his life was saved but it completely changed as he was bedridden with total paralysis. ‘ My life was like bikhar gayee, he told us in a wide conversation recorded about a year ago. It left in deep distress and depression to think that he was now limited to bed. A man who was so active in Lucknow but then life moved on. The family brought him to Delhi and cared for him.
‘I got love. My father loved me. My father never believed that I can’t be cured. I counselled him and informed about my own condition. I knew that this is not a curable. It took five six years to even counsel my father. I wanted to fill something.’ Can you imagine a son who is totally bedridden counselling his father about his own condition but that was Johar Saheb.
‘ I wanted to work in the field of disability as I was expert in it’ but it was a new people, new placed and added to that was that he couldn’t walk. He could not even write so ‘my pen was developed. It took one year. People would run away just seeing me. Brother Surendra developed this device 19th January 1992. Doctors did nothing for it. This is a writing device. He was a trained therapist. .’
Dr Johar always referred his pen as his Gun.
And hence his activities grew. He was meeting people who pitched for support too. He wanted to Register FOD i.e. Family of Disabled and says ‘Registrar send someone at home to get thing registered as I was unable to walk to his home, it was March 11th, 1994 registered though he started working it in 1992.
Initially he did not know how to form an organization and that he did not know whether it need to be ‘registered’.
Why family of disabled, I asked him.
‘I discussed with my own self. None was from this sector. Family is united as they care for each other. We would like to make a family to help each other, understand and share each other’s happiness and pains. Disable people need family.’
‘I made many mistakes and many goof-ups’, he said but it was difficult for a person like him to find really encouraging persons. Most of them who came to him did not have the capacity to stand with him, instead they were depressing. “Many said what you are doing. You can’t do anything. How will you work? You are totally dependent on others for everything’ but there were people who were of great encouragement. One suggested ‘You can’t walk, you can’t sit so what can be worse than this. You will only gain. What can be worse than my condition? It was advantage Rajinder Johar. He says, initially his father was very disturbed as what I was doing till 11 pm.
Slowly, acknowledgement started. He got Manav Seva Award in 1993 in which his father accompanied him to Teen Murthy, he says. ‘My father then realized as what I had been doing in night’. His father passed away in 1996 and by that time he had received two three award and realized that ‘I do certain things that people now acknowledged’.
What was the worst thing in terms of attitude of people towards those with disability?
Johar Saheb says, ‘People exhibit. These people don’t know that people can do work even at this stage. I had only two options, either to surrender or fight out. I said I can’t fail as what can be failed than that. Many of them would come to see him only. ‘I was looked as Ajuba. They would ask me to write. Would show us how you write. But I made them aware. I wanted to suggest that don’t think disabled nakara or useless’.
He developed his own convictions which made him stronger. ‘I am in the prisoner in four walls but with some privileges. You will get everything but you won’t go out’.
He was immensely proud when Mother Teresa responded to his letter. ‘Mother Teresa send letter. People take celebrities. I asked blessing of Mother Teresa and Baba Amte’.
I had often asked him about disability being a ‘class’ issue too.
His ‘apna rojgar’ scheme became very successful. ‘The people we are dealing are of low income group.. most of them have passed 7th 8th and many are totally illiterate. They don’t get any job because of disability. We started a rojgar yojna which provided soft loans interest free. It was two thousand five hundred in the beginning now it is six thousands. We don’t give in cash but we buy thing for him. He or she will return the things. If give on time he can get it again’, he said.
He had all the details of the people supported. Such a sharp memory.
800 people supported so far.
1700 aid and appliances distributed.
150 artists are on our database for exhibitions.
125 children supported for education. Rupees ten thousand support was provided per student.
What is that he feel not achieved so far, I asked.
We have built a Centre, we have achieved.but with great difficulty. That place will be full with activities. Last October we got the building. We will achieve the target. Well-wishers supported. We got Solar system.
What is the attitude of the people, I asked.
We are considered permanently sick. The difference is between disease and disability. We have to make them understand. We are not bechara, pitiable. Give us opportunity, we will show you what we are. Even if we are nithalla or useless even then we have a right to live. There are thousands of unemployed why so hungama over our unemployment.
He narrated an incident of how a journalist was weeping when he saw him and said, ‘I could not stop myself seeing your plight’.
I told him ‘when I am not weeping then why are you. Please stop it’.
Many people would come and say, ‘I am sorry for you’. I would tell them as ‘why are you sorry’. This attitude of feeling fear of what would I do if I become like that.
People think that they have no right to speak about anything else. ‘Why should you joke? Why should you speak of life, of politics? Why you smile? ‘. Actually, people have this image of ‘ours’ in mind as down, out and depressed and hence they only feel disability from that angle. ‘Why you enjoy. You should only be crying.’ Dr Rajinder Johar was a man of tremendous wisdom. He learnt through the pangs of his life and was enormously gifted with humour. He would say, ‘ I have mind. I do read. I can discuss politics, society.’ His mind was alert and analytical.
The problem was that the issues of disability or challenged people were relegated to charities but Dr Johar set up his own example. It was therefore a great achievement when he started The Voice as it provided a platform to express views and narratives from a ‘differently abled’ perspective. You would find not only important information related to those who needed but various other issues including success stories and link to engage with other like-minded people. The magazine developed a new horizon for people with special needs. It gave people idea about the feelings of the people with special needs and how they should be accepted by society as they are. They need to be encouraged and not pitied upon and that they can look after their own issues and at the same point of time engaged with other actors who may be supporters.
Dr Rajinder Johar was a reason for many to smile. He was light-hearted and shared those moments with people like us. His life was definitely that of a mission and he lived every moment for providing others ideas as well as much needed. He actually linked rights with economic empowerment as he knew well that it is easier to speak of ‘rights’ but the ‘disabled’ people don’t only need that but goodwill of the society too. Things are tough for them due to ‘accessibility’ issues and the callous attitude of the society. It was here that people like me understood more of how to respond to the issues of disability.
There have been loads of issues because of the social pressure particularly those who have been living life with their head high. Why is this that the people always want you to be submissive, living in pain and total helplessness. My wife Namita suffered a lot because this brutal attitude of society and Dr Johar remained a person she would look to for guidance and his humour was enough to lighten her.
In our last conversation which went over for nearly two hours when spoke with an open heart despite not so good health. I hope the conversation would open eyes of people as how people in India need to change their attitude towards people with disabilities.
‘They have to accept us as part of society. It is right that we do not look like you. We may have some limitation. People are challenged in different way. Don’t compartmentalized them’, Said Dr Johar.
Dr Rajinder Johar is no more but he ideas and work will always enlighten and empower people. He must have been a satisfied soul to see his family stood rock solid behind him. His daughter and son have been active in the vision that he initiated and we sincerely hope they will carry forward the work left by him.