“I have never felt so helpless despite my disability. I think it is better to die of coronavirus than to die waiting for some food.” The remarks by 45-year-old Vanam Rajesh from Hyderabad describes the plight of beggars who have been left in the lurch following the closure of temples across India due to the coronavirus lockdown.
Rajesh, who has to walk with the help of crutches for the last five years, used to be dependent on the alms he received from visitors to the Nagamma temple in Yellareddyguda, one of the busiest residential locales in Hyderabad.
“For days together, I have survived by drinking tap water. I don’t want to die like this,” Rajesh said. However, he admitted that during the initial days of the lockdown, government agencies served food. “I keep waiting for someone to offer me food at least once a day. People do offer me food but how many times or days can they,” Rajesh rued.
The 45-year-old said even if he wanted, he could not walk all the way to the nearest GHMC canteen serving free lunch and dinner due to his disability.
A native of Nizamabad, Rajesh had left home as a child. He worked as a cleaner in trucks till he was hit by a speeding vehicle five years ago. Despite undergoing surgery on his right leg, he is unable to walk without crutches.
Having no ID, Aadhaar or ration card meant he was not eligible for the state government’s pension scheme. The monthly pension amount for disabled in Telangana is Rs. 3016. “People here told me I should try for the monthly pension as I am disabled. I am neither educated nor do I have an address. But my hope is Reddy sir,” he said.
The ‘Reddy sir’ he referred to is Dr. YVR Reddy, who retired as a principal scientist from ICAR-Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA). The 75-year-old, who lives near the temple, has been fighting a battle for the last year or more on behalf of Rajesh in getting him a government document.
Rajesh now has an Aadhar card, an electoral identity card and a bank account under PM Jan Dhan Yojana. “Getting ID cards made for him was a long struggle. Then, we took him to King Koti hospital and got the disability certificate that states he is 44 percent disabled. Our application for a ration card has been pending since July 2019. We have applied for a monthly pension in January 2020 but in vain. We have written to ministers, government officials, and not succeeded,” Reddy said.
What YVR Reddy or Rajesh is unaware of is that their petition at the Telangana State Human Rights Commission came up for hearing recently and a direction has already been issued to the Hyderabad district collector on May 27. The petition filed on May 14 states: “I am an orphan, disabled, beggar and homeless person suffering from hunger due to Corona lockdown. No one is bothered about me and my applications look to be no attention from all others (sic)”.
In its order, the commission directed the district collector to send one of his subordinate officers to the petitioner and get the matter inquired into. If the facts are correct, the commission asked the district collector to take appropriate measures to meet the request of the petitioner subject to his eligibility. The commission has also sought an action-taken report by July 21.