Weekends are when Radhika Chand catches up on her favourite movies, sitting in her recliner that she bought with her own money. As we walked up the steps to her room, she looked at us with an air of curiosity, and perhaps a tinge of annoyance, at her Saturday routine being disturbed. But it takes less than a few seconds for her to warm up to us and take a break from her knitting – she’s making a blanket. She is not particularly fond of being photographed she tells us. We mumble an apology. “No, no don’t worry,” she says. “As long as I don’t have to look at the camera.”
Radhika was born with Down Syndrome and went to special schools in Delhi, Mumbai, Hong Kong and Sydney. She started painting at the age of 15 and received her training in Australia. In 1997, at the age of 25, Radhika became one of the 12 people across the world to be selected as a Yamagata Fellow to attend a week-long art workshop in Washington D.C.
Since 1992, she has had 10 solo exhibitions, and her art has been collected by people across the world. She joined the Vasant Valley school in Delhi in 1992 as an assistant in the junior art department where she worked for around 15 years. She later joined the arts and crafts department for special children in the senior school.
Radhika has donated several paintings to raise funds for organisations working for people with disabilities. Some years back, one of her paintings was auctioned for Rs. 1,30,000 to benefit a school for children with disabilities in Mumbai. She was also recognised as an achiever by the Limca Book of Records in 2016.
Once the photos are done, she goes back to her chair and offers us some tea. As we settle down with tea and cookies, she tells us about her family, her job at the school, her art, and her friends. Her job as a teacher keeps her busy Monday through Friday. But she loves it. “My presence in the school has helped teachers, students and parents, become sensitised towards persons like me,” she says. The school started a special section, thanks to me.” It is easy to understand why she has been able to break so many stereotypes. Besides being a painter, Radhika also used to be an avid sportsperson, played the piano, and had learnt how to drive some years back. She bought herself an electric car with her own money, she tells us.
Radhika is an example of how access to equal opportunities and support can make people with Down Syndrome be equal members of our community, and is a true role model for others.