Lal Advani - A Visually Handicapped Scholar, Social Worker

Despite being blind, Lal Advani worked on several positions in Government departments related to welfare of the disabled and other weaker sections and in non-government organizations.  He was born on April 26, 1923, in the Sindh province.  His father’s name was Dharamdas Advani.  At the time of his birth the untrained midwife did not use sterilized instruments.  As a result of this Lal Advani’s eyes were affected and his vision started fading.  At the age of nine, his vision was quite low and there was no other way but to operate on his eyes.  The operation was unsuccessful, but the doctors did not give up hope and performed 12 operations one by one in three years.  All these operations were not only unsuccessful but also quite painful.  At the age of 12 years, Lal became blind.

Lal Advani’s childhood was without fun; most of the time was spent with doctors and in hospitals.  His parents were fed up.  Before independence, the Indian public was insensitive to the problems of the disabled and cursory remarks of his family members made Lal weep.

Lal was very interested in studying, but he was really sorry to know that blind students were not allowed to appear for examinations.  Though his father was the headmaster in a school, this did not help.  In spite of this, Lal continued to go to school and study.

He was very happy to know that London University organized an examination for the blind. Lal immediately decided to appear in this examination titled “General Certificate of Education”.  Intelligent Lal qualified in the examination.  The exam was considered equivalent to matriculation but was very tough.

Then he passed the B.A. exam in 1952 from Punjab University.  In 1954, he passed the M.A. as well.  Lal was so interested in studies that he continued to study.  He acquired a Post-Graduate degree in special education from London University.  He also acquired a Post-Graduation in special education for the mentally retarded from Boston.  He acquired a diploma in special education for blind students from Perkins.  Lal Advani himself could not do PhD but acted as a co-guide for PhD theses on various issues related to Society.  Under his able guidance several students earned doctorates.

Young Advani wanted to become self-dependent because of the continuous insults he faced in society.  He, therefore, started working at the age of 19.  Laborious Lal was good at music. This helped him to start his career as a music teacher.  Those were the days of the Second World War.  The feeling of patriotism was very high due to the Indian Freedom struggle.  Lal Advani started working as a Physician without an honorarium.  Patients came to him and he treated them in his own way.

Once a nine-year old boy came to the hospital.  His hands and feet did not move at all.  The British military doctor examined him and said that the boy was healthy and deliberately not moving his limbs.  He directed his assistant, Lal Advani, to threaten him so that he moved his hand.  If he did not move his limbs even after threatening then he wanted to singe the hands and feet with a hot rod.  In this case, he would definitely move his limbs.  Advani declined to do so.  He clearly told his military officer that he knew his job very well and treated the boy with massage.  The British doctor was very annoyed and complained to the senior officials.

The senior official called Lal Advani and told him that this was a case of insubordination and he could be imprisoned for 40 days.  Finally, he directed Advani to give in his resignation, which he immediately did.  His well-wishers were shocked but he continued.

In 1944, he received an order from the Defense Ministry asking him to teach Braille and music at St. Dunston’s Institute at Dehradun, which was established for the welfare and rehabilitation of soldiers who had lost their vision in the Second World war.  Lal Advani did not want to go there.  He considered the teaching of music more important.  His father, who was due for retirement shortly, advised him that a Government job was better for his future.  He also explained that this was not a mere request, but an order from the Defense Ministry and the government sought his services in the interest of the nation.  After persuasion he agreed and started teaching the blind soldiers braille and music.  He began to enjoy the new assignment.

In 1947, he was selected for the assistant grade by the UPSC. He was the first blind candidate who was selected by the Commission.  He impressed the Selection Board during the interview.  He took up the job in 1947 and continued in the service till 1982. Finally, he retired as Director of the National Institute of Visually Handicapped.

Throughout his career, he performed excellently.  Barring the last three years before his retirement he was posted in Delhi.  Considering his caliber and honesty, it was proposed in 1973 to enroll him in the IAS cadre, but during that period a minister asked him to do something which he felt was unjustified.  He neither did this nor allowed anybody else to do it.  As a result he did not get an IAS rank.

Lal Advani continuously worked for the blind.  He played a major role in the development of Braille.  He represented India at an International Conference held in 1950, under the auspices of UNESCO to finalize issues related to braille.  He impressed scholars of international repute by his knowledge.  He received a UN fellowship and went to England where he wrote a report on welfare schemes meant for the blind.  He prepared several documents which are immensely useful.

He got married in 1964 to Nalini Devi.  Nalini worked as a Librarian at Maulana Azad Medical College. His only son Lalit had completed his education in garment manufacturing unit.

Lal Advani also worked for the weaker sections of the society apart from the blind and the disabled.  He worked at Bal Bhavan and National Children’s Museum.  Due to his extraordinary vision, he worked in an innovative manner wherever he was posted.  Once he was asked by a Joint Secretary of the Ministry to prepare a report on the disadvantages of drinking liquor.  Initially Advani resisted and pleaded that he had no knowledge of that field.  The poor Joint Secretary was under pressure from his senior officials, so ultimately Lal Advani took the responsibility and prepared a report in such a manner that several new facts were brought to light.

Lal Advani’s contribution to the National Institute of Visually Handicapped is invaluable.  The institute was established to provide welfare and rehabilitation for blind soldiers.  Later on, other blind trainees also started coming there.  A no. of units were added to it one by one and it was converted to the National Centre for the Blind.  When Advani was posted to Dehradun, this centre was being converted into a National Institute.  Overall, this organization was like a pilgrimage for the blind but was never developed in a planned manner.  Due to this, a number of problems arose and accumulated, and they seemed insurmountable at the time of its conversion to the National Institute.  Blind Advani was able to visualize and solve them in a planned manner.

When he reached Dehradun, he found that a sheltered workshop was being run for the blind.  These types of workshops make losses because the basic aim behind them is to provide employment and the items prepared at these workshops are not sold easily.  A Government order was issued to close the workshop due to financial reasons.  Advani argued against the closure and persuaded the government to revert the order. 

Similarly a school for the blind was run on the premises.  An order was issued to transfer this school to the State Government as the Central government wanted the institute to work as a research institution.  Far-sighted Advani pleaded that no medical college could run without an attached hospital.  Without blind children, it would be difficult to conduct research.  Advani declined to execute the order and ultimately the order was reverted and the school is still running.

A special school for mentally retarded children functioned at Lajpat Nagar, Delhi. The school applied for recognition. The social welfare Department sent a social scientist to evaluate this school where modern techniques were used to teach children. The social scientist could not understand them and recommended the closure of the school. Advani understood the long-term positive implications of the new methods and persuaded the Govt. to recognize the school. 

Lad Advani was selected President of the Asian Blind Union. He fulfilled the responsibility while in Govt. service.  He visited several countries and impressed the representatives of member nations.  He had a good command over English which helped him to create a good impression even in western countries.  He visited the USA and UK a no. of times.  He also visited France, Germany, Belgium, Canada, Australia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and several African nations.

He was able to assess the situation of the blind in the countries he visited.  He found that there was a warm regard for the blind in Muslim nations.  The reason is that in the Koran, it is advised that one should behave properly with them.  According to the one story of the Koran, Paigambar Hazrat Mohammad had a blind friend. Once that friend came to meet the Paigambar but he was busy in other affairs and could not meet his friend.  The same night, God ordered him to meet the blind friend immediately otherwise all his divine powers would perish.  The very next day, the Paigambar called his friend and took him to the battlefield where he was supposed to go, and lived with him.  This incident has generated sympathy in muslim mind for the blind and there are rare occasions of misbehavior with them.

Lal Advani has done an in-depth study of the situations of the disabled in various countries.  He feels that the situation in USA and UK is very good.  The main reason behind this is that the welfare activities for the blind have legal backing.  In both the countries, the First Act for the disabled was passed in 1920.  Subsequently, improvements in these acts were made periodically.  After the enactment of the American Disability Act, 1990, the condition of the disabled in America has improved further.  However, the situation in Latin American countries is not so good.  Similarly, the situation in SAARC nations is not commendable, although India is on a higher plane.  Therefore, India can play an exemplary role for South Asian nations.

Lal Advani was successful on all fronts.  Even after 17 years of retirement he is active.  Just after retirement in 1982, he started a travel agency.  After running it for 3 years, he joined a Mumbai based organization “National Society for equal opportunities for the Handicapped” as Director-Research.  He worked here from 1985 to 1996 and studied and prepared reports.  He prepared several useful documents. 

Lal Advani has been attached to the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI) since its inception.  In 1999, he was formally appointed its adviser.  At the age of 76, he goes to RCI regularly and works efficiently.  He clears every file immediately.   Although his appointment is temporary, he takes full interest in is work.  Recently, the Council has asked him to prepare a report on the situation of the disabled in India.

Advani made a valuable contribution in drafting the Disabled Acts in 1995.  In-fact, he prepared the first draft.  Unfortunately, what he wrote and what was passed in the Parliament was altogether different.  This Act lost its teeth.  It gives more suggestions and fewer orders.  Advani is a member of the Central Executive Committee which is constituted as per the second chapter of the Act.  He attends meetings but is unhappy as the recommendations of the committee are not implemented.

Even in this situation, he has not lost hope and feels that disabled people are benefitted because of the appointment of a Chief Commissioner.  Now they can complain before the Chief Commissioner.  The Govt. has asked Advani to prepare an action plan for the education of the disabled.  He is busy in preparing a pilot project. 

Advani likes writing.  He types himself and also dictates.  He has written a book on the mentally retarded.  He has prepared a large number of reports, some of which identify employment opportunities for the disabled.  His articles are regularly published in newspaper and magazines.

Lal Advani gives the credit for his success to his father Dharam Das Advani.  His wife is also very active in the field of welfare for the disabled.  She is the Chairperson of Handicapped welfare Federation, a renowned organization in this field.

Source: Eminent Disabled People of the World By Sri Vinod Kumar Mishra