Nothing's served by telling 21-year-old Aneesa of Anantnag that 53 per cent of Kashmiri women are literate. She's unread because she cannot see, and there are no schools or colleges in the Valley that could teach her. Her elder sister, Amina, was also born blind, and has received no education.

"Kashmir has one of the highest populations of visually impaired people," says Nisar Ahmad of the Association of Blind. "But we have no education system for them, not even Braille schools." Nor are there vocational training facilities for blind women. This has left them helpless and dependent on others. "I have lost my mental peace," says pretty-faced Amina. "I feel I am a burden on my family. I am not happy at all."

Aneesa spends her day doing household work. She rarely leaves homes or visits relatives. She is closest to her younger brother, Shabir, who she feels understands her most. She is obsessed with becoming independent. Like many other blind women here, she is unmarried. "I feel useless," says Aneesa. "If I was able to get vocational training which kept me busy and made me independent, I would be at peace."

The futures of Mariya, 10, and her sister Zoha, 14, are equally bleak. Their father, Rafiq Ahmad, ultimately decided against sending them to Aligarh for education because of security concerns. Mariya and Zoha shy away from speaking about their ambitions, but their father voices their angst. "My daughters have no education," says Rafiq Ahmad, "due to the negligence of government towards our disabled children. I doubt if my daughters would ever be able to receive education and become independent."

Of the 330,670 disabled people in the state, according to the 2001 census, 208,713 are visually impaired. In 2000, a Centrally-funded Composite Regional Centre (CRC) was established in Srinagar as a rehab for disabled people. But it has failed the blind.

CRC has no facility for blind mobility-training. No more than fifty students up to 5th standard crammed in two rooms get Braille education. Other disabled students are offered degree and diploma courses in rehabilitation therapy but not the blind.

Tasleema, who teaches the blind at CRC, says, "Parents are not ready to send their children to our classes as there are no facilities." Absence of transport is a hurdle.

Tasleema insists blind women should get special classes. "Women face discrimination in society," she says, "and when they suffer disability, they lose all support."

CRC thrice tried but failed to open blind schools. Officials say they can't bear the transport charges. But Hilal Parray, director of the social welfare department, assures, "We are trying to improve CRC's performance and will pay special attention to the grievances of visually impaired people."

Meanwhile, women such as Yasmeena and Nowsheen have emerged as examples of courage and determination. Yasmeena, 39, blind and untrained, solely supports her aged mother by knitting woolens. Her three brothers live separately.

"I never let my blindness become a hurdle," she says. "I have overcome it and now I don't feel I am not normal." Yasmeena has traveled to many parts of the country and has interacted with people from different walks of life. Still unmarried, Yasmeena aims to care for her mother and family till her last breath.

Yasmeena knits colourful woolens for kids and adults. She works night and day to earn Rs 3000 a month. But she is concerned about the condition of other blind women around her. "Illiteracy has condemned blind women," she says. "They live depressed and aimless lives."

Nowsheen, who lost her vision when she was in class 8, is doing B.A., but not through blind school. Instead of a pen or notebook, Nowsheen carries a tape recorder to college, records the lectures, and then repeatedly listens to them till she has learned them. But appearing for exams is her real test.

"I have to ask my college authorities to arrange a writer for me to whom I dictate my lessons during exams," says Nowsheen. "The college authorities are not cooperative."

In her first-year exams, Nowsheen was made to wait more than an hour before a writer was allotted to her. "I was not given extra time and had to finish my paper with the others," she says. Nowsheen has the will to fight her way to get a complete education, but it is unfair and insensitive to expect that of everyone. Kashmir's blind women are crying for help, and it is not forthcoming.