Pranati Mohanty

    Ever heard of a mentally retarded agriculturist or a brick maker? No? Then come to Panachimood in Trivandrum to see the same people whom we termed "idiots', "morons’ and "imbeciles' who were considered unfit to lead a normal life. They are not only growing vegetables and rubber nurseries in a 30-acre farm but also selling them profitably to the local community.

    The Developmental Centre for Mentally Retarded (DCMR) at Trivandrum also has a batch of students proficient in brick making and allied activities. The State-level Construction Organisation "Nirmithi Kendra" has trained them and issued skill certificates which enable them to seek a livelihood like any other normal person. Seeing the mentally retarded children stand on their own feet and become productive members of the society was a long-cherished dream of Thomas Felix, a clergyman and founder-director of the Central Institute for Mentally Retarded (CIMR), Trivandrum. This has become a reality now by dint of his conviction and hard work. The ultimate moment of glory for the priest came when a group of his special children were allowed to perform at the Republic Day Parade in New Delhi, this year.

    Dignitaries and spectators rose in thunderous applause when the children danced to the tune of a song which said "We are also like you, give us a chance". The occasion had a symbolic value for the priest from Kerala who has been working among the mentally retarded for the last 30 years. To him it meant as if, time had come for the society to give a chance to these special children to grow to their full potential and accept them as equal members.


    When Father Felix started the first school for the mentally retarded at Changanacherry in Kottayam district in Kerala, it was like any other school for the mentally retarded children with boarding facilities, using teaching methods and techniques based on the traditional 3 Rs system of reading, writing and arithmatics. But soon he found out that this system of education was not at all suitable for these children. Instead of mental development they suffered further retardation under this order. Keeping them away from parents did no good to them or the community which had all along preferred to isolate and ignore them. With a determination to find a suitable method of teaching for the mentally retarded, he set out to learn from institutions involved in the development of the mentally retarded.

    His search took him to almost all such institutions in India and quite a number of them abroad. For a whole year he studied the situation in Europe and America. But the absence of a wholesome programme aimed at total development of the mentally retarded continued to haunt him. He also realised that the rehabilitation programme for the mentally retarded in our country is based on the western concepts which are expert-oriented and expensive, having no role for the community or society. But what hurt him most was that even after spending so much money, the final aim of integrating the mentally retarded into the mainstream of life was not taking place.

    According to the Rehabilitation Council of India's (RCI) statistics, three per cent of our children below 14 years of age suffer from some form of mental retardation. Nearly 70 per cent of them live in the rural areas which have remained inaccessible to the government's rehabilitation programmes till date. According to the 1991 Census, nine million children below 14 years were mentally retarded and we have 800 special schools equipped only to cater to the needs of 25,000 such children. But what about the vast millions who languish in our villages? How are we going to provide equal opportunity to them as per the Equal Opportunities for Disabled Act of 1995?

Concept of Three Cs

    Seventeen long years of research along with a dedicated group of teachers amongst the mentally retarded children helped Father Felix to devise the concept of 3 Cs as against the traditional system of 3 Rs as a suitable means of education for the mentally retarded children. The idea is based on the concept that everything in the world has a form or shape. These shapes can be reduced to a few basic shapes, i.e., circle, rectangle, triangle and square. Moreover, these shapes are associated with colour. Everything around us has its own shape and colour.

    For teaching a mentally retarded person we can simplify any object around us into these basic shapes. For example, a book is nothing but two types of rectangles joined together. A cycle is made of two circles and a triangle. A car from four circles and a rectangle and so on. Alphabets in any language of the world can be simplified into these basic shapes.

    This approach stimulates in a mentally retarded person comprehension leading to competence which further directs to ‘creativity (3Cs).

    The concept of 3 Cs has already been accepted by many countries as a system of education for the mentally retarded persons. In India itself, about 60 schools have already started teaching through this method. CIMR, Trivandrum is also conducting a one year diploma course for teachers in the new system which is recognised by the Centre.

T    he institution is running a clinic for early detection of mental retardation in children and uses a special therapy called "Voijta" to stimulate growth in children who show a slow development tendency. Parents of the mentally retarded children from all over Kerala use this facility. The simple exercises are taught here to the parents which give encouraging results when practised at home . Thus, the institute is combating the problem through early detection, effective therapy and education through 3 Cs system.

    Since the system developed is drawn from Indian experience and is less expensive, we can hope that there will be no problem implementing it in various States of the country. Besides, the Prime Minister has alreay announced setting up a National Handicapped Development Finance Fund to facilitate rehabilitation of handicapped persons.

    As we march to the next millennium our index of development will be measured not only by the economic and political growth but social yardsticks as well. The quality of life we ensure for our disadvantaged sections will grade our development. The 3 Cs system and the home and community-based rehabilitation programme devised by CIMR can help us reach out to each of the special category children in every part of the country, who in turn, will contribute their part in the growth of our society.