Dharmender Kumar resides in village Bharauan in Fatehpur District of Uttar Pradesh. He belongs to the Scheduled Caste community, considered one of the lowest classes in the traditional Indian caste hierarchy. He is, now about 40 years of age, is married and has five children.
Dharmender had been running a shop for repair of bicycles in his village. However, at the age of 30, he became totally blind because of glaucoma. He could not come to terms with the disability and with the loss of sight, his life seemed to get bereft of any meaning for him. He was unable to do any work at the shop, which was soon closed down. His wife had to take up hard manual work as a farm labourer in order to earn some money for the family. Dharmender was becoming a total liability.
When our field worker met him about three years back, he seemed totally shattered, dependent on others and completely lacking in self-confidence.
Thus the first thing the field worker did was to provide him counseling, so that he could regain some self-belief and willingness to make a new beginning. He was also imparted training in the skills which he needed most—ability to look after himself and attend to his daily needs as also move about independently.
The task was not easy. Because of being lately blinded, he had both real and neurotic fears. But, gradually the field worker's skill and Dharmender’s persistence started showing results. With the acquisition of necessary skills, Dharmender began to believe in himself and look to future with hope. He started developing a positive attitude towards life; his morale went on going up.
Dharmender was also provided re-training in running a shop, since the field worker wanted to build on his earlier experience and skills of shop management. He was provided under the project interest-free loan of Rs.18,000 with which he set up a shop of his own, selling groceries and other articles of daily use. Gradually, the shop gained momentum and Dharmender started repaying the loan.
With his restored confidence, Dharmender now wanted to expand his work. He attended one of our ‘Disability Rights Awareness Workshops’ where he heard with rapt attention about various government schemes and benefits for the weaker sections of the community including supportive provisions of the disability-related legislation. After the event, he came to one of our field workers and asked with enthusiasm why he could not be allotted a government ‘Fair Price Shop’ for selling items like wheat, rice, pulses etc. (such shops are allotted by government functionaries to sell the aforesaid items at subsidized rates for the benefit of the poorest sections.)
On advice from the field worker, he approached the concerned government official but could get no justice. The village shop under reference was being run by a high caste influential man who prevailed upon the local officials not to allocate the shop to the low caste blind person.
But Dharmender would not give up. He filed a petition in the High Court of his State which directed that, as per the village custom, the question of allotment of the shop be decided by the votes of villagers. So, the villagers were required to vote whether the shop should continue with the powerful high caste person or be allotted to our fighter, albeit blind and low caste,
Dharmender. Dharmender canvassed and lobbied his case actively throughout the village and success came his way when he defeated his powerful contender by 105 votes.
Now, Dharmender is running the Fair Price Shop with great efficiency in collaboration with one partner who had helped him with some finance. His work is greatly appreciated by the villagers, as he ensures that the available food items (grains and cereals) are distributed equitably, whereas earlier only a few privileged persons close to the high caste owner could access these items.
Thus, through his grit, determination and fighting spirit, with the help of inputs provided by our project staff, Dharmender is today a role model and a village leader.