A big obstacle in the path of former journalist Swagat Thorat when he decided to bring out a newspaper for the blind was that he could see. The paper had to be in Braille and he didn’t know it. “I had to understand what it is to be blind. So I started visiting the schools that exclusively catered to their needs. I started learning Braille and made an entry into their world,” he says.
Swagat’s fortnightly Braille newspaper is titled Sparshdnyan. It was born in 1998 and is published on the 1st and 15th of each month. About 400 issues are gifted to schools for the visually challenged and NGOs. “The unofficial readership is over 24,000,” says Swagat. Along with Sparshdnyan, Swagat also publishes Sparshgandh, a features magazine in Braille. But it comes out just once a year during Diwali.
The newspaper encapsulates the happenings of the fortnight. Though these can be heard on TV, Swagat believes reading is empowering because scenes can be more descriptive. Sparshdnyan also has writing by the visually challenged. According to Swagat there is much creativity amongst this marginalised group, it just needs a solid platform to showcase it. “It is simply amazing. They have their own interpretations of colour, size, shapes, and it is an eye opener,” he says.
Since he has very little money to publish the newspaper, Swagat makes documentary films on various issues to raise funds for Sparshdnyan. “Many sighted people want to get involved in Sparshdnyan. It is heartening to know that my work has helped change the perspective of the sighted towards the visually challenged,” says Swagat.
Swagat’s interest in doing something for the blind goes back three decades when he was inspired by Helen Keller. He has also taught Braille to about 138 sighted people. In 1997, he produced and directed a play, Swantantryachi Yashogatha, with 88 blind artistes which has found mention in both the Guinness
Book of World Records and Limca Book of World Records. This was followed by another play Teen Paisyacha Tamasha (based on Three Penny Opera) by the late PL Deshpande with 44 blind artistes. This too has found place in the Limca Book of Records.