Until now, blind people in Maharashtra who wanted to keep themselves abreast of the latest political and current affairs news had no option but the radio and the audio stream from television news channels. Soon, they will have a 40-page fortnightly magazine, in Braille, and in Marathi.
Working out of a tiny office in Andheri, a western suburb of Mumbai, journalist-turned- theatre personality and entrepreneur Swagat Thorat is set to launch Sparshgyan, which he claims will be the first news, politics and current affairs fortnightly magazine for the blind in the country.
The magazine, to be launched on 1 February, will be sold through subscriptions and also distributed free to institutions working with the blind in Maharashtra.
Helping hand: Swagat Thorat, journalist-turned-entrepreneur.
Well-known Marathi poet and writer Arun Mhatre will write a column in Sparshgyan, as will theatre critic Suresh Chavan, who will talk about the latest work on the stage. And P.D. Deshpande, who runs Helpers of the Handicapped, a non-government organization (NGO) based in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, will write a column on personality development.
While organizations working for the blind have been continually at the forefront to make life easier for the visually challenged, there is always a little more to be done, says Parimala Bhat, a social worker with Air India.
For more than six years now, Parimala has been running Snehankit, a help-line for the blind that helps the community by finding volunteers to help them cope with the demands of everyday life.
“Education is a big issue...; there are very few readers and books (in Braille) are limited for higher studies,” says Bhat.
For the past four years, Thorat has been publishing Sparshgandh, a collection of fiction and non-fiction in Braille. He sells around 500 copies of this every year.
A few corporations have shown interest in Sparshgyan and Thorat has found a few sponsors, but he is not willing to divulge the details.
Sparshgandh has, in the past, featured advertisements (in Braille) from Bank of Maharashtra and Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers Ltd, among others and Thorat is confident of getting good response from advertisers for the new magazine. A year’s subscription of the magazine costs Rs960.
According to the National Association of the Blind, an NGO, India has the largest population of visually challenged people in the world. The organization runs a talking book library project that produces a range of books in Braille every year.