Tears stream down Sakkubai Shiva Kale’s leathered face at the mention of her grandson. The 66-year-old smiles faintly as she speaks of her joy that her grandson — nine-year-old Lakhan Sawant Kale, who suffers from cerebral palsy and seizure disorder — will be admitted to Samata Shikshan Prasarak Mandal over the weekend. A school-cum-hostel facility for children with disabilities, it is located in Satara. “He needs special attention and I am happy he will be cared for,” says Sakkubai, seated outside her makeshift home of tarpaulin sheet on the pavement behind the Mantralaya bus depot.
Lakhan had been moved to The Children’s Aid Society in Dongri with help from the police after The Indian Express carried a picture of the boy tied to the bus stop, followed by a report (Mumbai Newsline editions dated May 20 and 21). The boy, who suffers from multiple disorders, was earlier living with his grandmother, a pavement dweller who used to leave him tied to the bus stop when she would go to sell toys at Chowpatty — her means of earning a living.
Although the boy had found a roof over his head in the Dongri shelter, it was a temporary arrangement as the space didn’t have provisions for his medical and development needs. Meena Mutha of the NGO Manav Foundation, who had earlier aided his rescue, had constantly been in search of a better facility for Lakhan. “After over six weeks of efforts, we found this home in Satara, which also has a school attached to it,” Mutha said.
However, it isn’t only Lakhan who will benefit from this move. Sakkubai, who was worried that she will have to travel all the way to Satara every few days to see her grandson, has also been offered a job at the facility, and is currently considering it. “I’ve lived here, on the pavements near Mantralaya, all my life. The idea of moving does make me nervous since all my extended family lives here, but if I take up the job, I will be close to my grandson and at the same time earn a living,” she said.
Partha Polke, an activist who closely works with the Dalits in Satara and also runs this facility, says that the move should help both the boy and his grandmother. “But Lakhan needs a lot of attention as he will be the only child in my facility who isn’t independent. We first need to focus on his development to make him self-reliant. After that his education and future will be taken care of.” The facility has a majority of deaf-and-mute students, with a few who suffer from mental disabilities.
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With the paperwork nearly done and permission from the Child Welfare Committee at the Dongri shelter obtained for the transfer, Mutha is planning to get Lakhan admitted by Sunday. “It wasn’t easy to find a suitable place for the boy. The city is lacking in facilities for people who suffer from disorders like Lakhan’s. And the ones that are already there were either full to capacity and couldn’t take him on, or were demanding a high admission fee, which was very difficult to arrange for. But we are all happy that everything’s worked out well for Lakhan in the end,” she said.