Different Dialogues : Extended and Enlarged version of Dr. Mithu Alur’s Interview

Extended & Enlarged Version of Dr. Mithu Alur’s Interview, Founder Chairperson, ADAPT (formerly The Spastics Society of India).

Educational background: Ph.D. Institute of Education, University of London. Dip.Ph.H., Institute of Education, University of London. B.A. (Hons) English, University of Delhi.

Professional background: For over 36 years, Dr. Mithu Alur has been closely involved in education, healthcare and employment for women and children leading to social change, legislation and social policy. Professionally, a Doctor of Philosophy and policy analyst from the Institute of Education, University of London, her thesis analyzes Indian Government educational policy for children with disability.

  • In 1989, the President of India awarded Dr. M. Alur the Padmashri (equivalent to an OBE) for her then 17 years of work.
  • In 2003, Dr. M. Alur was the First Recipient of an International Award entitled, ‘The Marsha Forrest Rose Quartz Warrior Award’, which was specially instituted and given for her Leadership and Contribution to Inclusive Education from Canada’s Marsha Forrest Centre.
  • In 2006, Dr. M. Alur was presented the Paul Harris Fellow Award by Rotary International, United States.
  • In 2009, Dr. M. Alur was awarded the EMPI - Indian Express Indian Innovation Award.
  • In 2009, Dr. M. Alur was awarded the Woman of the Year Award for Outstanding Woman Citizen of Mumbai by the Indian Merchant Chamber.
  • In 2010, Dr. M. Alur was awarded the Woman of the Year – CNN IBN Super Idol Award.

Q 1. In your view, what is most important in life? Accordingly, name three aspects, important in life.
A. To be a good human being. My belief that ‘The right is to work only not to its fruits’. To take on life one day at a time. To not be frightened or overcome by adversity.

Q 2. If you were not doing what you are doing now, what would you be doing?
A. My philosophy is to work beyond oneself for the welfare of others. That is just what I am doing now… If I was not doing what I was doing now I would be painting and doing creative things and listening to music.

Q 3. What motivates you to achieve your goal?
A. When I see children deprived of education, due to reasons of disability, poverty, etc., this motivates me to work harder and give them their due and see that no child is denied the right to education. As quoted by Gandhi, ‘I want to see the smile in every child’s face and wipe the tears from their face’.

Q 4. How do you handle stress and pressure?
A. By being positive and thinking of other people’s suffering more than one’s own.

Q 5. Which of your qualities would you want to pass down to your child/children?
A. Humility. Generosity. Sincerity. Kindness and Perseverance.

Q 6. Who is you favourite author? Which book of your favourite author have you enjoyed the best?

Q 7. What are you pursuing currently, by the way of a light hobby, or by the way of a serious goal?
A. Hoping to build an inclusive society, where children whether rich, poor, disabled, underprivileged, learn side by side, where no child is denied the right to education and to see the smile on every child’s face.

Q 8. In the last 1 year, is your particular goal advancing? Which is that goal/dream?
A. Yes it is advancing. I have been nominated into many of the Government Committees. The most recent one… I am Chairing the Task Force for Education of Persons with Disabilities. This will help me in my work in enhancing the quality of life of disabled people in the country.

Did You Know?
  • Dr. M. Alur set up the first model of the Spastics Society of India in Mumbai in 1972 with the help of Shrimati Indira Gandhi.
  • Dr. M. Alur began the first special school in India for children with multiple disabilities providing both education and therapy under one roof.
  • ADAPT’s first model has been replicated in 16 of the 31 States of the country.
  • In 1987, The Spastics Society of India received the National Award for the Best Voluntary Agency from the Government of India in 1987.
  • In 1992, Dr. M. Alur and her colleagues launched the National Centre for Cerebral Palsy (NCCP) in Mumbai.
  • In 1993, The National Centre was opened by Mother Theresa and Shri Manmohan Singh.

Did You Know?
  • In 1994, Dr. M. Alur was invited by the London School of Economics to be a Visiting Academic.
  • In 1998, Dr. M. Alur completed her Ph.D. from the Institute of Education, University of London in 1998. Entitled “Invisible Children – A Study of Policy Exclusion”, her thesis examined the evolution of social and educational policy for disabled children in India with specific reference to the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS).
  • In 2000, the National Resource Centre for Inclusion (NRCI) was launched.
  • In 2001, President of India Shri Abdul Kalam visited the organization.
  • Dr. M. Alur was also the Principal Investigator together with a Canadian expert Dr. Marcia Rioux on a UNICEF supported CIDA project.
  • In the area of pedagogy, Dr. M. Alur has initiated a course in collaboration with Institute of Child Health (CICH) London funded by the Women’s Council, UK which reaches out to Master Trainers’ in the Asia Pacific Region.

Did You Know?
  • In 2005, Dr. M. Alur was nominated to the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) which is the highest body in the country within the Ministry of Education or Human Resource Development (HRD).
  • In 2006, Dr. M. Alur was nominated to the Working Groups of the Planning Commission of India for the 11th Plan.
  • In 2008, Dr. M. Alur was invited to be on the National Executive Committee, National Mission, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.
  • In 2008, Dr. M. Alur was nominated as Member of the Advisory Board (CSR) of the Coca Cola Foundation, New Delhi.
  • In 2009, Dr. M. Alur was invited to the Expert Committee of RCI on EDUSAT.
  • In 2009, Dr. M. Alur was invited to be on the Round Table on School Education and Disadvantages Section Women, PWD's and SC/ST, Ministry of HRD, New Delhi.

Did You Know?
  • In 2011, Dr. M. Alur was invited to be a Member of the Working Committee for Implementation of Right to Education (RTE).
  • In 2011, Dr. M. Alur was invited to be a Member of the Working Committee, National Advisory Council (NAC), New Delhi.
  • In 2012, Dr. M. Alur was again nominated for the third time to the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) which is the highest body in the country within the Ministry of Education or Human Resource Development (HRD).
  • In 2012, Dr. M. Alur was nominated to the Standing Committee of Government’s National Monitoring Committee to review all Government programmes dealing with SC, ST and PWD.
  • In 2012, Dr. M. Alur was appointed Chairperson, of the Task Force for Evaluation of all programmes dealing with Persons with Disability.
  • Dr. M. Alur has a vast number of Papers to her credit e.g. Establishing services for spastics in India, The Multi-disciplinary approach to cerebral palsy, Challenges in Pediatrics, Children in need of special care. She is also the author of: Education and Children with Special Needs, Invisible Children – A Study of Policy Exclusion, The Journey for Inclusive Education in the Indian Sub-Continent.

Dr. M. Alur is member of:
  • Central Advisory Board for Education (CABE), New Delhi.
  • Round Table on School Education, Ministry of HRD, New Delhi.
  • Round Table of Elementary Education of Disadvantaged Groups, New Delhi.
  • Working Committee for Implementation of Right to Education (RTE), New Delhi.
  • National Advisory Council working Group on Child Protection, New Delhi.
  • National Monitoring Committee for Education of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes & Persons with Disabilities.

Recap of the conversation with Dr. Mithu Alur, Founder Chairperson, ADAPT (formerly The Spastics Society of India), which appeared in the month of November 2010.

It is kind of a recurring miracle, to see Dr. Mithu Alur, every time. I should remember that when I use the word ‘miracle’, it prepares me to compare her dauntless spirit of determination – which did not turn to desperation and self-pity as substitutes. So far as the actual facts and theory go, Mithu comes from a privileged, scholarly Bengali family of Kolkata: who was left completely traumatized by the realities a) that her first born child, Malini, was severely exposed to Cerebral Palsy. b) Malini would be a total vegetable and therefore, to devote time to her development would be quite futile. Now to simply describe, Cerebral Palsy, it is an umbrella term encompassing a group of non-progressive, non-contagious motor conditions that cause physical disability in human development, chiefly in the various areas of body movement.

44 years later, today Malini has 2 Masters Degrees from London to her credit. One in Gender Study and the other in Information Management. For what Malini is today, hugely the credit goes to Mithu-the-mother, whose voice captured an important role in human and social development of other children. ADAPT students and supporters gradually started conducting attention to the right meaning of including the disabled to be given the needed importance to them, which was absolutely lacking before Dr. Alur made up her mind to face her personal challenge in dealing with her own child with special needs. She remembers clearly meeting a Health Minister at that time, who hearing the term Spastics, quipped, “Are you talking about – Plastics?” Well, that’s how ignorance reigned on matters regarding children with disabilities! Slowly and steadily, Dr. Alur has brought about effective public-private partnership in implementation of programmes to make disabled children able.

Today, Dr. Alur’s centers in Colaba and Bandra focus on education for all students with or without disabilities. From a special school started with just 3 children in 1972 by her, she is in a position to provide today services to more than 3,000 children and 10,000 families annually. These include assessment, treatment, inclusive education, counseling, skills-training and job placements. ADAPT is now moving towards creating an inclusive village model in Maharashtra (India) under the aegis of the Mithu Alur Foundation.

Q 1. What has been the turning point of your life?
A. Earlier, I had no cause or focus in my life. The turning point in my life was when Malini was born. It was also a turning point in the life of my family members. I got to know about Malini’s joys, sorrow, needs and her wants. I adapted my life to see what I could do best for Malini and for other Malini’s in the country. It was then that I began my journey… from one child it involved a million children in the country.

Q 2. If you could go back in time, what would you want to do?
A. I would love to pursue something creative, like drama, arts, music, singing, playing tennis and would like to make films.

Q 3. What are your future dreams?
A. I have something in mind… to start a National Centre for Inclusive Arts, and Music. I have a project like that in mind and this will be for the normal person as well as disabled people. I hope to achieve this Dream.

Geeta Chhabra

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