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.

“It is just about enough to keep my head above water”

06 Sep

Wajed Ali Mallick lived a contented life in quaint little Gowachitta in Southern Bangladesh. During the day he used to ferry electrical goods from shop-to-shop and in the evening he used to go back home to his wife and four children. All of that changed on one fateful evening in January 2007 when an errant iron-rod from a rickshaw pierced his right eye in a freak accident, while he was chatting with friends outside a tea-stall. Doctors in Barisal and Dhaka failed to treat his eye. His other eye could not bear the stresses of the heavy dosage of the medicines recommended. He now has 2/6 vision in his left eye. An iron filing still remains lodged in his right eye, and gives him painful, sleepless nights every now and then.

Wajed Ali Mallick at his tea-stall

For two and a half years, Wajed Ali lived on the goodness of his friends and relatives. His disability and exorbitant seed and fertilizer prices meant that his 4 cottahs (1 cottah = 2880 sq. ft.) of land could not be cultivated. Those months of veritable mendicancy still rankle in his mind. He had to marry off his daughter, all of sixteen years, to make sure that the others in the family had enough to eat. The eldest son, who was fourteen years old then and studying in Class VIII in a local school, had to abandon studies to join a tailoring shop as an apprentice. Wajed Ali fathered another child after the mishap. “It was an accident”, said Wajed Ali, half-dejected and half-embarrassed, in response to my question about why he and his wife decided to have a fifth child in the midst of absolute penury.

Four months ago, Wajed Ali took a loan of Tk 5000 from BERDO and opened a tea stall of his own in the market square at Gowachitta. Every day, he opens shop at 6 am and stays put there till 11 pm. Mondays (the day of the weekly market, when traders come from nearby villages) are particularly good for business. Wajed Ali now earns about a tenth of what he used to earn from his business of electrical goods. “It is just about enough to keep my head above water”, he said when asked if the money was enough to sustain a family of six.

His son at the tailoring shop

Wajed Ali does not get a disability stipend, something that all persons with disabilities are entitled to get in Bangladesh by government decree. He has not been able to save enough for the bribe that the clerk at the district office asks for in exchange of including his name in the list of disabled people. Surprisingly, he does not have a health insurance either. “Most insurance accounts in Bangladesh are fiddled with by middlemen”, said Wajed Ali. I had little clue about how insurance companies in Bangladesh operate but nodded in agreement. I realised that when a man’s life is a continuous struggle to gather enough means to live, the very thought of investing in one’s future appears faintly ridiculous, even revolting.

Posted By Abhilash Medhi

Posted Sep 6th, 2009


  • Owen

    September 10, 2009


    Your blogs are not just informative generally, they’re sensitive to the realities of life for the individuals whose circumstances you describe. Thanks for all these insights into other people’s hard lives.

    • Abhilash Medhi

      September 15, 2009


      Thank you so much for the comments. This fellowship (and the 70 odd days that I have spent in Bangladesh) sure have taught me a lot of things and changed my views on a lot of issues. They have probably also had the effect of making me more sensitive.

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