Indian Railways Blind to Disability

Anita Tai is a 30 something woman living alone in the town of Vangani in the outlier districts of the city of Mumbai. Anita was born blind. Around a decade ago, she migrated to Vangani when she heard that it was home to disabled families who came across the state and settled there to earn their living. Anita’s desire was to be independent and live a life of dignity. She became one of the many blind people who you may have seen selling inexpensive ‘made-in-china’ pens, chains and other trinkets in the compartments of the Mumbai trains.

A few years ago, when Anita was making her way across the railway tracks to the platform to board her daily train, she lost her balance, slipped and fell. An arriving train ran over her hand. She survived the accident but her limb was destroyed. It had to be surgically amputated.

In a town of 350 disabled people making their living by selling their wares to commuters in train compartments and no foot-over bridge to safely access the platform, Anita remains just another statistic of causality.

There are many cases like hers in Vangani – the blind who are forced to navigate the hazardous tracks in complete darkness, the people who have broken bones and fractured limbs, the people who have lost their lives. 15 years of many avoidable mishaps later, the authorities have yet to come good on their promise of a foot-over bridge.

You can help Anita and support the 350 blind families of Vangani in their struggle for a footover bridge which can give them safe access to the railways platform. Call Rahul Jain, Divisional Regional Manager, Central Railways on 022-22621450 and make a demand to make Vangani Railway Station into an accessible disabled(blind) friendly railway platform. Demand for immediate change.

For more information on the families and the situation continue reading below:-

Atul Jaiswal is a former Occupational Therapist and a gold medal pass out of the illustrious Tata Institute of Social Science. This past year, he completed his master’s in social work with a focus on disability. He says that his years in therapy had taught him that true rehabilitation of the disabled must go beyond medical terms and must be thought of and implemented in the social sphere. With a vision of developing a comprehensive and participatory rehabilitation project, Atul began working with the disabled in the district of Karjat, Maharashtra when he came across the community in Vangani.

“Around 15 years ago, it was a local politician’s election-time promise to grant free accommodation  to all disabled people that started the migration towards the town. But by the time the families began to arrive, an unfortunate tragedy occurred and the politician was killed. The land was never given but the around 50 families who had already arrived, mostly young couples, decided against going back to their natives. They took rooms in the town which available at a cheap rent and began to settle there. This was the foundation of Vangani’s disabled community.”

“For their livelihood, they struck deals with local wholesalers who supplied them with the trinkets which are referred to in local slang as ‘cutlery’. Vangani is a train yard. The railway tracks pass through the center of town. The families started selling the ‘cutlery’ in the local trains. The Pune-Mumbai and Jalgaon-Mumbai routes are the most popular. The families make a roundtrip during the day, moving from compartment to compartment, hawking their wares. By the end of the day, they make enough for two full meals and day and some meager savings.”

“Most of the blind in Vangani are pass-outs of school but they are unable to land jobs because of their disability. The trains are some of the only spaces where this community can ply their trade and earn their livelihood. But given their disability, the moving overcrowded trains are some of the most dangerous spaces that the disabled can access. There is a constant fatal danger, the chance of missing the bogey and slipping onto the tracks. Many have broken their bones and fractured their limbs. Some have lost their lives.”

“In spite of the high degree of danger, this most vulnerable community is ignored by the authorities of Vangani. The community resides on the western part of the railway tracks from where there is no access bridge to safely walk to the platforms. Sometimes there is a large goods train parked across the tracks and the people have no option but to duck below the compartments, next to the wheels, and make their way across, knowing full well that the train may start at anytime.”

“When you leave for work in the morning, there is no guarantee that you will come back alive.”

Atul was looking for a suitable person to document the struggles of Vangani’s disabled community. It was through a Google search that he first saw the work of IndiaUnheard Community Correspondent Amol Lalzare, a resident of the Sathe Nagar Slums of Mumbai. For Amol whose videos chronicle the life and issues of the Mumbai slums, the Vangani story carried with it a kind of poignancy that was inspiring to the aspiring film-maker within him. He agreed to make the story but felt that the regular 3minute IndiaUnheard video would not suffice to tell an intimate portrait of the community and its daily struggles.

“A three minute video is mostly just the information. But I made a ten minute version so people could step into the footprints of the community. I wanted the audience to experience the sensation of moving barefoot across a crowded platform in Mumbai, of finding one’s way through the darkness of fear. I wanted to show how a blind amputee like Anita cooks food at home.”

“Disability is experienced in the most minutest and everyday of actions. It is a shame that society overlooks them. Perhaps it is because we have not been able to understand their needs and wants or we don’t look at them as complete individuals. Perhaps we have never strived to.”

“This is what I wanted to change with my movie.”

Atul has founded a 7 member Disabled Person’s Organization in the town which gives vocational training to the blind to help them pursue alternate careers. This week they have received their first order for paper envelopes. Atul is also getting ready to petition the railways for the bridge.

Meanwhile, Amol has completed his 10 minute portrait of the community and is planning to send it to festivals and organize screenings so that more and more people can witness the plight of Vangani’s blind families.

They are both hoping to find kindred souls who will take the struggle ahead.

Call to Action:- Call Rahul Jain, Divisional Regional Manager, Central Railways on 022-22621450 and demand that the Vangani Station not only get a local footover bridge for blind and other non disabled community, but also that Indian Railways create a model for other railway stations by constructing  an accessible disabled(blind) friendly railway platform and footover bridge.

Get in touch with us at info@videovolunteers.org if you want to organize a screening of Amol’s extended film on Vangani’s disabled community.

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