Uttar Pradesh is the most populous state in India. She is slowly catching up with the social and economic changes occurring elsewhere in the country. Government’s efforts have not brought the expected changes in the style and mode of life of the people due to a number of reasons. They include economic disparity, illiteracy, low status of women, female feticide and infanticide, superstitious religious and cultural taboos. The social welfare programmes of the government have not much changed the lot of the poor and the less privileged.
It is in the Etawah district and its surrounding districts in the states of U.P. and M.P. that Asha Niketan is trying to reach out to the differently abled children. Here majority of the people are Hindus. Other religious groups include: Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians.
The people who live in the towns in these districts are comparatively better off. Agriculture and animal rearing are the main occupations of the people in the villages. Life in unhygienic conditions and the poor health services add to the woes of the people living in the villages. People are often ignorant of the biological factors that cause the birth of the children as retarded. Absence of prenatal care and the unscientific use of medicines do increase the number of disabled in this society.
In the whole of U.P. there are only a few institutions for the mentally challenged and at Etawah there was none till Asha Niketan started functioning in August 2001. For the differently abled of this area, the government or the voluntary organizations have not been able to do anything substantial for their welfare. People of this area see mental handicap as a social stigma. Therefore, they do not wish to expose their specially abled children to the public and prefer to confine them to their houses. If the children are brought and dropped in front of the public, the parents believe that the public will come to know that they have in their family a specially abled child which might become a matter of dishonor to the family. When this attitude of the parents is coupled with the absence of institutions that care for the welfare of the specially abled, the condition of these hapless lots becomes quite pathetic. Thus, rose the need for the establishment of an institution like Asha Niketan for the care of specially abled children.
The specially abled and the changing social environment.
As a result of socio-economic changes, today large families have come to cease. People prefer nuclear families to joint families. In a large family as in olden days, there were other family members to take care of the disabled with love and respect. But that has changed. In many families there is no suitable person or atmosphere to pay attention to the disabled. In most of the families, parents both father and mother are compelled to take up one or other profession to increase the earning of the family to meet the increasing requirements. Under such conditions, the differently abled fail to get proper attention and in certain cases parents are compelled to lock them up. Hence it has become necessary to adopt new methods suitable to the present day conditions. Asha Niketan is a simple attempt in this direction