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  who's who >> Verve >> Radhiké Khanna


New Shades of Living

Drugging is not the solution for violent children. I can't work with a regimented child but I can interact with a hyperactive one because at least he is communicating with me.
Her intimate interaction with young mentally challenged individuals spurred the former textile design student into developing a new form of art therapy and rehabilitation. Award-winning, pioneering educator and vice principal, SPJ Sadhana School for the developmentally handicapped, Mumbai-based Dr Radhiké Khanna tells Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena, “I never saw their disability…I only saw how I could help them.”

Almost two decades ago, a young student of the Mumbai-based Sophia Polytechnic had a close encounter that was to change the course of her life. Barely out of her teens, Radhiké Khanna interacted with a differently challenged ward of the SPJ Sadhana School - the institute was then housed in the basement of the Polytechnic's building. Vasudha Jain would hit, kick, bite and pull at her own skin, sometimes till she caused herself to bleed. The episode moved the teenager to thought and action and sowed the seeds of a new synergy that culminated in a creative form of therapy and rehabilitation.
Today, 41-year-old Dr Radhiké Khanna, vice principal, The SPJ Sadhana School for the Developmentally Challenged, and founder and trustee of Om Creations and Shraddha Charitable Trust, looks back on her long involvement with these children of a lesser god with a satisfaction and fondness that is distinctly palpable. In her small but open door office, she converses freely with her protégés and the teachers, even as she rewinds over years spent fruitfully.

“For many years,” Khanna states softly, “people did not believe that severely handicapped children could be artistic. When I joined SPJ Sadhana, no one had faith in their abilities. They were being trained only in the business of daily living and simple jobs like packing.” Socially too, their prospects were dim. “At home, they would be put into the last room of the house so as to avoid attracting attention. If the family had another child, all the attention was lavished on the normal sibling. Often, when the 'handicapped' offspring was born, parents were told that you should put him to sleep as he is useless.”

Khanna's attitude was more optimistic, her faith in the children more firm. “I never saw their disability…I only saw how I could help them. “Initially, many educators thought that I was crazy. But luckily the school gave me the infrastructure to create teacher training methods, to generate a platform of ability. Sister E Gaitonde, our present principal, has always been pro individual talent and has stood by me through all my decisions.”

The staff at SPJ Sadhana tries its best to help the students get employment once they have finished their course at the institute. “We visit hotels, factories and other units to see how best they can be absorbed.” And children report back to the institute on Wednesdays informing their teachers on how they are progressing.

Khanna emphasises that when they are working, it is not just a boost to their self-confidence. “The family accepts a working person much better, even though their salaries are often just enough to take care of their monthly needs.

From a part time volunteer to a pioneering vice principal of the institute, Khanna has come a long way and takes great pride in the supportive staff that helps translate her vision into reality. “The teachers work for free or for very low salaries,” she states. “But, for us, more than the money, the work is its own reward.”

Contact information:

SPJ Sadhana School,
Dr Rosendo Ribeiro Children's Complex,
Sophia College Campus,
Bhulabhai Desai Road,
Mumbai 400 026.

Tel: 23647913/ 23619853.