Disability Causes

 Navin B Chawla has been sympathetic to those suffering from disability partly because he himself suffered from infant hemiplegic as a child.  Sent to a boarding school up in the mountains near Shimla, he had to participate in all forms of physical activity, which was to help him enormously in overcoming any sense of personal disability.  However, he remained sympathetic to all such causes throughout his life, and assisted wherever he could.

            Perhaps it was natural that when he got to know Mother Teresa in 1975, he felt attracted to assist her in her work, especially the most challenging work of looking into the care of the leprosy affected.  As Secretary to the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi (1975 to 1977), he became as closely involved with her Delhi-based work as was possible within his duties in the Delhi Government in 1976.  He helped Mother Teresa acquire land in Seemapuri in East Delhi, which is traditionally the area where the leprosy affected population live.  Here Mother Teresa built dormitories for ex-leprosy sufferers, as well as a small hospital for reconstructive surgery. Over long years of knowing Mother Teresa, he gained many insights into the plight of anyone unfortunate enough to be afflicted by leprosy, and the trauma that followed when they initially tried to hide their disease.  This interest led him in 1986, to avail of nine months’ Study Leave from the Government of India to report on the leprosy situation in India.  He travelled in and around Delhi, as well as to leprosy-related institutions in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. He produced a report entitled “The Vocational Rehabilitation and Social Re-integration of the Leprosy Affected in India”.  It was released in 1987 by Mother Teresa who came from Kolkata specially for the event.  Present on the occasion were also Shri B.G. Deshmukh, then Cabinet Secretary of India, Shri Romesh Bhandari, then Lieutenant Governor of Delhi and Prof. Gangrade, then Pro-Vice Chancellor of Delhi University and the Director of School of Social Work of Delhi University.  In an audience of about 200 Delhi’s elite at the India International Centre mingled about over a dozen healthy children of leprosy patients.  Mother Teresa spent over two hours and patiently signed over copies of the Report with the words “God Bless you – Mother Teresa”.  She would write a special message if people wanted. Those who were there that evening have probably kept this Report more carefully than they might otherwise have done!  During Chawla’s 23 year long association with Mother Teresa, he continued to assist her with leprosy and disability causes

            In 1992 when Chawla’s biography on Mother Teresa (entitled “Mother Teresa”) was published, he went to Mother Teresa and said that he could not keep the royalty that was accruing from the sale of his book.  The book had been first published in the UK (1992) and thereafter elsewhere in Europe.  He discussed the idea of setting up an NGO to deal with leprosy and disability issues, feeling that in all conscience he could not keep any royalty coming from a book on Mother Teresa.  She advised him that he was welcome to proceed on this course, but with a caveat that he set aside enough money for his daughter Rukmini’s education at a University in the UK for which Mother Teresa herself was to give a reference.  Excluding that amount and till date, the royalty sum  of almost Rs.60 lakhs has been donated to The Lepra India Trust. 

            Before he began, he once asked Mother Teresa how many people he could look after at the NGO.  Her answer was concise.  “Do not get lost in numbers.  Even if the ocean is less by one drop, the work is still worth-doing” .  From 2006 when The Lepra India Trust opened its doors, it has been able to attend to over 17,000 ex-leprosy sufferers; many can be seen on their tricycle rickshaws/wheel chairs on Delhi streets or at Mother Teresa’s Leprosy Home.  The Lepra India Trust also runs a small school for children from disadvantaged families, including about 20 hearing impaired children. They are given hearing aids and are taught by special educators.  Healthy girls of leprosy patients over 17 years of age avail of a free beauty training provided by Smt. Nelofar Currimbhoy, daughter of Shahnaz Hussain, renowned beauty specialist  (please see the website of The Lepra India Trust).

            In Jaipur, Chawla runs an NGO called ‘Darshan’ (Website: ngo-darshan.org).  This has grown into an institution for hearing impaired children.  At present ‘Darshan’ has 52 young hearing impaired children.  They suffer from different degrees of hearing disability.  Some children may be able to hear better in one ear than the other ear.  All children are provided free of cost hearing aids.  According to international norms, no class should have more than ten children. Hence, there are five classes upto Class-V.  This is not a residential school.  The children are given a free meal and they are both picked up and dropped under the supervision of our teachers.  Older youth who suffer from extreme hearing impairment are taught computer skills, also free of cost.  After they are able to complete their courses, Chawla personally assists them to get jobs in Jaipur which at the best of times is very difficult in the case of the disabled. He usually tries to get them employment in pairs so that they enjoy their companionship.  Some of the leading hotels in Jaipur have been persuaded by him to employ these young men in good and safe jobs.

            Chawla’s involvement with The Lepra India Trust continues as Vice Chairman and with the ‘Darshan’ as Chairman.