For the 400-odd strong community of visually-impaired people living in Vangani near Ambernath, the COVID-19 induced lockdown has created severe problems for their sustenance.
Over the last three decades, many visually-impaired people have flocked to Vangani, located 60 km west of Mumbai, creating a colony of residents who would find sustenance by either hawking trinkets on the suburban train system or seeking alms.
The complete shutdown of the Mumbai suburban train system due to the national lockdown has meant that many members of the community, including the likes of 43-year-old Balasaheb Baburao Shinde, are finding it difficult to survive.
“We travel in trains, selling small items. When the trains stopped, we all came home. No one has any money now,” Shinde said, as he waits in a line with his 7-year-old daughter to receive food being distributed by the Vangani village panchayat.
“I used to sing in local trains, and sell some items. I earned Rs 200 on good days. I have a family of five and now we are penniless… Even after toiling hard, I couldn’t provide enough for my family earlier. But now, the situation is even worse,” he added.
Raju (43) and Malti Ubale (37), both visually impaired, were also in the queue, waiting for food packets.
“Despite being blind, I had never begged for food. Both my husband and I have worked hard. He would sell passbook covers in trains and I used to work at a paper bag manufacturing firm. But since the lockdown, we have had to beg even for meals,” Malti said. The couple is worried they won’t be able to pay their rent and might be evicted.
Those in the queue are given a meagre meal of rice and dal. “I haven’t tasted any vegetables in over 10 days. I will be glad to eat something with my dal rice, but beggars can’t be choosers,” Nanhe Khan (43) said.
“I used to play flute in the trains. Some were kind to me, and would ask me to play songs of their choice. I was able to at least feed my family. But now, I don’t know what will happen,” he added. Sarpanch Ketaki Shelar spends Rs 5,000 a day to feed 600 people in her area. “Around 400 visually-impaired people and some construction workers, who are stuck here, are being provided cooked meals twice a day. We had purchased ration right before the lockdown. However, our stocks are running low and no one has come to help us. The tehsildar came and saw the situation, but hasn’t provided any help,” she said.
Despite the announcement made by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman that two instalments of Rs 1,000 would be given to Divyang or the physically challenged, no help has reached the group in Vangani.
For Gauri, Balasaheb Baburao Shinde’s daughter, the situation her family is in is deeply distressing. “Once I grow up, I will work hard and ensure that my family never sees this day again,” she said, leading her father away from the line after they received their food packets.
Thane Collector Rajesh Narvekar said, “The team is working on a plan on providing relief to the Divyang… we will soon provide them free ration once we get it from the government.”
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