In most of her speeches, K Radhabai, distinguished for becoming South India’s first visually impaired doctoral student in 1991, makes sure to mention that she is from Usilampatti in the infamous Madurai district. for its high rate of female infanticide.
“I remember my mother was shocked to learn that the milkman and his wife had killed their newborn with kallipaal [the poisonous sap of cleistanthus collinus] because they didn’t want a girl. On the other hand, my parents never took my gender or my visual impairment from retinitis pigmentosa as a challenge and supported me from the start, âsaid the retired academic. MetroMore during a recent visit to Tiruchi.
Dressed in a crisp mauve and pink cotton saree, Radhabai often smiles, bringing a refreshing tone to the conversation.
Radhabai thanks her father V Krishnamoorthy, a Tamil teacher, for encouraging her to deal with her visual impairment in a positive way. âI attended a regular school in Usilampatti up to grade 3. But I was aware that my eyesight was slowly diminishing, because I could see the board, but I couldn’t read what was written on it. My dad first learned braille and then taught me how to use it, âshe says.
In 1969, he sent her to Chennai to study at the Poonamallee State School for the Blind, starting at grade 4. Radhabai placed first in her High School Leaving Certificate (SSLC) exams, in 1977, at the age of 17.
As she was considered a minor for the teacher training institute, her tutor, Solaimuthu, suggested that Radhabai should spend the middle year learning vocational skills at the Rehabilitation Center for Blind Women (RCBW), founded in 1975 by the famous ophthalmologist and philanthropist Dr Joseph Gnanadhickam in Tiruchi.
âI took courses taught at the RCBW house, then in 1978 Principal Priya Theodore approached the Seethalakshmi Ramasamy College of Arts on my behalf and on behalf of Chandra, another visually impaired student, for admission to PUC. It was a turning point in my life because I had to study on an equal basis with sighted students, ârecalls Radhabai.
Radhabai passed his exams again, placing first in a class of 104 students. âThe director, who had been reluctant to admit me at first, was delighted with my performance and helped me apply for my bachelor’s degree in history. She later helped me pay the fees as well, through fundraising efforts, âshe recalls.
Her outstanding academic performance then made her eligible for scholarships which helped her to pursue higher education in earnest.
After obtaining the second rank in history of the master’s degree, Radhabai did his doctoral studies with the special permission of the Vice-Chancellor of Bharathidasan University, PS Manisundaram. She submitted her thesis in 1989 and obtained her doctorate in 1991.
Radhabai’s thesis traced the history of rehabilitation services for the blind in India, with particular reference to Tamil Nadu. âIt took me five years to write, as I traveled across the country and within our state, visiting all the major institutions dealing with welfare programs, such as the Louis Braille library. Memorial Research Center attached to the National Association of the Blind (NAB) in Mumbai, and the National Institute for the Empowerment of the Visually Handicapped in Dehradun, âshe said.
Tech savvy educator
One of the early proponents of computer education for the visually impaired, technology-savvy Radhabai uses electronic devices equipped with specially adapted software.
Being comfortable with computers also helped her cope in a classroom full of sighted students, says Radhabai, especially when she was an assistant lecturer (and later head of department) in history at the Pudukottai College of the Arts for Women, 1994 to 2018.
âI made sure to plan well in advance and make my lessons as interesting as possible, so my students did pretty well overall. Of course, there would be a few villains in class, but these kids would have done silly things even if the lecturer could see them! she laughs.
Radhabai has won several awards such as Best Government Employee of Tamil Nadu in 2009 and âOutstanding Visually Impaired Womanâ from the Mumbai National Association of the Blind in 1988. Her biography is written by A Savarimuthu, President from Mother Fondation ThÃ©rÃ¨se.
A new chapter
At 61, Radhabai is enjoying her retirement with a sort of role reversal, as she supports her daughter Prabhavarshini, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in physical education at a university in Coimbatore.
The visually impaired single mother shares a deep bond with her daughter. âI have often regretted not being able to see Prabhavarshini’s progress in school, but she was always very conscious of including me in every part of her life. From an early age, she accompanied me to all my public engagements. I take an assistant when we go to his sporting events. When she is getting ready for a race, she will signal to my assistant to let me know that her ordeal has started. Even in this intense moment, my daughter thinks of me first, âshe said with a proud smile.
After serving at Bon Secours College and being associated with the Mother Teresa Foundation charity, both in Thanjavur, in her retirement years, Radhabai tried to cope with the lockdown as best she could, reading books and by giving motivational talks. online.
âHistorically speaking, the world has repeatedly faced pandemic-like situations. While it is still difficult to hear about so many children orphaned by COVID-19, we also have many people volunteering to help those in need. We have to face the situation with determination and perseverance in order to see the positive side of life, âshe said.