Rahul* (35) was an autorickshaw driver and came to reside in Padma Nagar, a cluster of informal settlements within Shivaji Nagar in 2005. With the income he earned. he sent his children to school and lived on rent in a 10×8 sq. ft room. He lives with his wife and his youngest son, who is in class XII. The eldest is now in their village.
A couple of years ago, due to a faulty medical prescription, Rahul lost his eyesight and is now 100% visually impaired. The sudden loss of vision and consequent medical treatment drained the family’s resources. Rahul then sent his eldest son to the village in Uttar Pradesh to live with his ageing parents and help them cultivate the family’s plot. From the village, the family would receive grains periodically which would see them through the year. He contacted Apnalaya centre in Shivaji Nagar and through the Health & Disability programme has been receiving counselling and support. He has attended job fairs but could not get occupational placement.
The younger son worked part time at catering services to meet the family’s need. On being acquainted with the MCGM’s urban poverty alleviation scheme by microfinance, Rahul visited the Community Development Officers team in the MCGM M East Ward office, that shared information on the schemes available. Rahul decided to use the advantage that his 10×8 room that faces the street and use it as a photocopy centre. He completed the paperwork to get a photocopying machine and with great difficulty after borrowing from neighbours, friends and relatives, collected the down payment of Rs 10,000 to buy the equipment. The amount was to be deposited with the ward office. The balance amount would be paid in business linked graded installments. The ward office conducted a lottery system to decide from the applicants. Rahul won the lottery! The machine was to be delivered in Mid April. On 24th March 2020, the government of India ordered a nation-wide lockdown due to the COVID-19 epidemic.
The glimmer of hope towards a brighter future eluded Rahul. With no money in the house and relatives and friends who had lent him money needing their money back, life has become hellish in lockdown times! His friends who used to chat him up everyday have stopped dropping by and Rahul himself is filled with remorse and shame at not being able to live up to his word of returning the money borrowed from people. Occasionally, a few rupee notes are shoved into his fist by neighbours seeing the family’s plight.
The grain supply from the village has stopped since crops were damaged due to untimely monsoon downpours. For three weeks now he has not been able to buy eye drops to relive his eyes from the itching and burning sensation. His family is dependent on food packets being distributed or dry rations as they receive it. The family has just one meal in a day and are happy when they have two meals!
Despite his visual impairment, one noticeable feature of the lockdown for Rahul has been how the sounds of auto-rickshaws has fallen silent…perhaps harking back to his past or wondering about the loss of occupation is not certain.
*Name has been changed for privacy purposes