Abhilash Medhi

Abhilash Medhi (Blind Education and Rehabilitation Development Organization (BERDO): Abhilash was born Assam, India. He earned a Bachelors degree in Civil Engineering from Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology, Nagpur, India and then worked as an Assistant Systems Engineer with Tata Consultancy Services in Mumbai, India. Abhilash also volunteered for Child Rights and You in Mumbai, India where he specialized in child labour laws, helped build alliances against child labour, and developed micro-credit schemes for poor women. Abhilash volunteered at the 2nd IEEE/ACM International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICTD 2007). At the time of his fellowship Abhilash was pursuing a Master’s degree in Development Studies at The London School of Economics and Political Science.

But what about them?

23 Sep

Throughout the summer, I have blogged about people who have been associated with BERDO, talked about how this association has managed to alter their lives for the better, sometimes marginally and in most cases substantially. In a few of my early blogs, I have also harped on the fact that effective as NGOs like BERDO may be, they can never (and they do not aspire to) replace the State. They are merely facilitators and State support in all matters is crucial. This blog buttresses that argument further by focusing on the life-stories of two people who have not been fortunate enough to benefit from any GO or NGO programme.

Bashar’s story

In 1994, Bashar Talukdar travelled to Dhaka from Bhola, with his wife and two daughters, in search of a living. The couple had two sons in Dhaka. The daughters were married off and the older son Saddam used to go to a neighbourhood school.

In January 2004, Bashar started to feel a strange rush in his right eye. He slowly started to lose his vision. Routine tasks like pouring tea into glasses became difficult to perform. He would sell the wrong cigarette packet at times. Treatment in Dhaka proved to be expensive. Doctors would charge Tk 200 a visit. The money he had to spend on medicines everyday (sometimes to the tune of Tk 300) meant that his daily expenditure shot up. Bashar could not muster the Tk 5000 that he required for an operation and travelled back to Bhola. At least there the doctor’s fees would be less steep, he imagined. That was the case undoubtedly, but medicines that would cost Tk 25 in Dhaka were sold to him at Tk 200 in Bhola. In short the chemist had chosen to fleece him. Bashar returned to Dhaka. Soon, Saddam who was then studying in Class V was taken off school. He now attends to customers at the stall while Bashar spends most of his time at home. He has registered at Sandhani, an establishment that organises eye-donations. The last time he contacted Sandhani, they told him that there were 2237 people before him on the waiting list.

Bashar at his tea stall with sons Saddam and Younus

The fact that Bashar’s stall lies right outside the gates of BERDO’s head office at Mirpur, matters little. BERDO does not have medical facilities in Mirpur. Nor does BERDO run its Community-Based Rehabilitation or micro-credit programmes there. Sceptics can argue that BERDO should probably make an exception to help Bashar. But where does an organisation draw a line? And if it indeed does decide to help Bashar, what about the blind shopkeeper who has a shop at the street-crossing 200 yards from BERDO? And what about the thousands like him who live remote lives away from the eyes of the State, or those of any NGO for that matter?

Shamima’s story

The intersection (or golchakkar) at Mirpur – 10 is as busy as busy can be. Cycles and rickshaws fight for space with buses and trucks. Pedestrians manoeuvre their way through fruit stalls that have spilled onto the footpaths. The sounds of cars honking horn, vendors selling their wares and beggars making a plea for money rent the air.

Shamima with her begging bowl

Shamima, a fifteen year old girl, spends most of her time at the busy golchakkar, in front of a restaurant. Like all of the beggars there, she too is disabled. Unlike most of them, she is completely immobile. At 8 am in the morning, a man dumps her on the footpath where she begs for money all day. At lunch time, the man collects her ‘earnings’ and goes away. At 9 pm the man carries her with him to his house in Kajipara.

On Eid day, the streets were filled with young girls decked up from head to toe in colourful dresses and sparkling jewellery. Makeshift food stalls that had sprung up for a day were doing brisk business. In the middle of it all, Shamima lay on all fours, waiting for someone to drop a coin or a note into her red begging bowl – aware of the fact that Eid or no Eid, her fortunes would probably remain the same. If Bashar’s was a tough existence, is there any hope at all for Shamima?

Posted By Abhilash Medhi

Posted Sep 23rd, 2009

1 Comment

  • Owen

    September 23, 2009


    With your story about Shamima you’ve very graphically illustrated the need for action of the sort you/BERDO have been advocating in the series of video clips.

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