‘Why should we vote?’: People with disabilities feel sidelined in Bihar’s Begusarai

Almost every family in Laruara village has a person with a disability, and they feel crushed by unemployment and abject poverty.

ByBasant Kumar
‘Why should we vote?’: People with disabilities feel sidelined in Bihar’s Begusarai
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When we walked in, Muhida Parveen, 30, was sitting in a corner of her aunt’s house, making beedis with a group of women. Muhida can’t walk; she had polio as a child. At the time, around 100 other children in her village, Laru-Aara, in Bihar’s Begusarai district suffered polio too, leaving them disabled and unable to walk.

Many of them are destitute, Muhida included. Her parents are dead. She got married four years ago but her husband left her a month later, though they are not divorced. Muhida now lives with her brother, who is also disabled, and together they struggle to make a living.

“I can’t go anywhere. I have to spend my life in one place,” she said. “What bigger tragedy exists than not having anyone to care for you?”

The government gives her Rs 400 a month as a disability pension. Muhida manages to earn a little by making beedis.

“Rs 400 a month! You tell me, who can live on Rs 400 a month when everything is so expensive?” she asked. “The government should pay attention to people like us...I’m disabled but I didn’t receive a toilet. I have to go to my aunt’s house to use one. I don’t even have a house to live in.”

Laruara is a Muslim-majority village, around three kilometres from Begusarai city. Most men work as labourers and the women make beedis which are sold in cities like Katihar, Darbhanga and Muzaffarpur. They earn around Rs 80 for 1,000 beedis.

Laruara’s residents told Newslaundry that the village is home to over 100 people with disabilities, like Muhida. According to the 2011 census, Bihar has 24 lakh people with different disabilities. However, Rakesh Kumar, the state secretary of the Bihar Disabled Rights Forum, told Newslaundry that this number is likely to be as high as 1.5 crore in the state.

Ignored by the government

The road leading to Laruara is riddled with potholes. We met Mohammad Sajid Ansari whose disability left him unable to walk and with the use of only one hand. He drives a tricycle to earn a living; the government is supposed to provide these tricycles to people with disabilities who need them.

Muhida Parveen.

Muhida Parveen.

Residents told Newslaundry that their disability pension of Rs 400 is inadequate to survive.

Residents told Newslaundry that their disability pension of Rs 400 is inadequate to survive.

“Look at the condition of the roads here,” Sajid said. “Not everyone has been given a tricycle so most crawl on the streets to get around. Our feet bleed while walking on these battered roads. Even driving a tricycle is difficult but no one listens to us.”

Sajid’s sister Rehana Khatun has a mental illness and has lost the use of her hands. He said the family never received a toilet from the government, despite the government’s claim that the state is open defecation free.

“We have to go about two km to relieve ourselves. When it rains, we end up soiling our clothes sometimes,” Sajid said. “But the government doesn’t notice this.”

Sajid and Rehana live with their parents in a hut made of mud.

“Our house hasn’t been constructed and we don’t have a toilet,” his father told Newslaundry. “My whole family including the two disabled children have to go out to relieve ourselves. What can I do? We are always worried about the children; we took them everywhere for treatment but to no avail. We are manual labourers and don’t have enough income to construct a house and get them good treatment. The government doesn’t help us at all.”

Mohammad Insan, 25, is a resident of Laruara. He cannot walk.

“We can’t do a job that requires manual labour or mobility,” he said, his face lined with worry. “What can be better than the government to give us some work according to our capabilities?”

Saeed Anwar, 25, explained that his disability was, like most others, due to getting polio as a child. “We face a multitude of problems every day and have no options for a change,” he said. “We want the government to save people like us. This government is a nuisance for everyone because of its hypocrisy. We are in a bad state and want the government to provide us with some work so we can feed ourselves.”

During the lockdown, Anwar said, villagers would eat only once a day, since they did not receive money or rations from the government. He only receives his disability pension of Rs 400.

“We haven’t even received a tricycle in the last four years,” he added. “It’s the private firms who have been giving them to us, otherwise we’d have been forced to walk.”

The unavailability of jobs

Unemployment has become a key issue in the ongoing Bihar Assembly election. The Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Tejashwi Yadav has promised 10 lakh jobs if he wins, while the Bharatiya Janata Party has promised 19 lakh jobs.

As with many other parts of the state, unemployment is a major problem for the residents of this village too.

Mohammad Abirul, 30, lives with his wife and two children. Living with a disability, he said, he finds it difficult to get work.

“If the government arranges some work for us, we won’t die with hunger,” he said. “We don’t beg but yes, we do face problems in getting the food on the table. The government did speak about some aid during the lockdown but we didn’t get anything.”

Abhirul depends on his disability pension of Rs 400 but it’s not enough to make ends meet.

“My tricycle gets punctured twice a week on average. Each puncture costs Rs 20 to repair,” he said. “Daily expenses are Rs 25-30 a day. I had often borrowed Rs 5-10 from my parents but after a certain age, it’s not right to ask them for money. They can only give us something if they earn themselves.”

Abhirul believes the government should give families “at least Rs 1,500”, so he isn’t forced to depend on his parents. “We don’t get a single grain of rice besides Rs 400,” he pointed out. “We didn’t get a house either.”

In 2017, Bihar approved the formation of a state advisory board for the welfare and empowerment of people with disabilities. The board’s tasks included overseeing reservation in jobs and educational institutes, Prabhat Khabar reported.

However, several villagers told Newslaundry that they’re still not getting any jobs. Their poverty means that many of them are not literate too, since families spent most of their money on medical treatment.

Mohammad Abhirul, who lives with his wife and two children.

Mohammad Abhirul, who lives with his wife and two children.

Most of the women here make beedis for a living.

Most of the women here make beedis for a living.

Ghalib Shaheen, who has been the village chief for 15 years, said: “No attention was given to our village because of the extreme poverty here. No attention was paid to cleanliness in the village and when the onset of polio came, a lot of children got it. Their families tried everything but none recovered. The government also gives pittance as financial aid."

He continued: "Unemployment is the biggest difficulty for a disabled person; they don’t get any jobs easily which makes them dependent on their families. The government should help in getting people some work which they can do...If people get some work, they won’t have to depend on others anymore. The government must also arrange some residence for them. None of it is being done which is why these people are worried.”

Fifteen years ago, he added, there was no road to the village at all. “I got the road constructed through my own efforts,” he said. “We get it repaired whenever it gets damaged.”

‘Even manifestos didn’t mention us’

Rajendra Kumar, the secretary of the Ambedkar Rural Disabled and Women Development Institution, Patna, said he and other activists have repeatedly asked the government to increase the disability pension. “But no one is listening,” he said. “The government gave computer training to people with disabilities under the Kaushal Development Scheme but nothing else was done.”

He continued: “We want people with disabilities to be given a place to live. Better arrangements should be made for their education. They can only assimilate in society if they can find work. Otherwise, they remain neglected.”

Kumar said he’s very disappointed with the Bihar government. “They only made announcements in the name of improving the status of people with disabilities,” he said. “When Jitan Ram Manjhi became the chief minister [in 2014], he increased the pension by Rs 100 from Rs 300. The present government only did work on paper; nothing much is visible on the ground.”

Kumar said he and others repeatedly submitted proposals to the government, asking for the constitution of a commission for people with disabilities at the state and national level. “We demanded that those who are educated but unemployed should be given an unemployment stipend of Rs 5,000 until they get employed,” he said. “We said the government should increase the disability pension to Rs 4,000 per month.”

When asked about the election, Kumar said: “Why should we go out to vote? No party considers us their vote bank, although we are a sizable population of the state. According to the Election Commission, there are 30,000 voters with disabilities in Patna district. It’s not hard to find the population of voters with disabilities in all 38 districts of Bihar. The state of the disabled is deplorable.”

According to Kumar, it was a struggle to even get disability cards made. “There are no teachers here to teach them. Even schools closed down. We are indeed upset with the government but for us, other parties are no better. None of them even mentioned us in their manifestos.”

A version of this story previously appeared on Newslaundry Hindi. It was translated from Hindi by Shardool Katyayan.

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