It has been his routine for eight long years: everyday, Bihari Lal sits out on his chair near the main gate of his house. The 73-year-old blind man intently listens to the footsteps of passersby in his Krishna Nagar neighbourhood. The hope this vegetable seller lives with is that one day, one of them would turn towards his gate — and it would be of a government official, bearing some help for his enveloping darkness.
Bihari Lal was not born blind. He lost his eyes eight years ago when a powerful bomb went off one evening in the vegetable market of Krishna Nagar. He was so badly injured that he regained consciousness after three months. During these months, he was shifted to PGI Hospital in Chandigarh. His family not only exhausted their meagre savings for the treatment, they also had to sell off the little jewellery they had.
Three years later, wife Jamna collected the Rs 70,000 relief given out by the state government. In the meantime, the family reckons they had to spend some Rs 20,000 following up the case in different government offices in different places.<b1>
Once, Bihari Lal would feed his not-so-small family — wife, seven sons and four daughters — on his daily earnings of about Rs 100. But later, the family had to beg to bear the Rs 150 needed daily for the medicines Bihari Lal has to take for the rest of his life.
Eldest son Rajkumar is now a police constable and earns about Rs 6,000 a month. But he is married and has started a family. It’s difficult to bear the continuing medical costs. That’s why Bihari Lal sits out everyday and hopes for more relief. Says Jamna, “Many leaders, including some from the day’s government used to issue statements assuring full support for us and other blast victims. The newspapers covered all that, but no one came to ask after our well-being.” She sarcastically describes the government’s relief policy: “Hathi jeende nu kakh, te mare nu lakh (The elephant that survives gets nothing, but the one that dies gets a lakh).”
Bihari Lal rounds up on his own predicament: “Look at me. Don’t you see my condition? I am neither dead nor alive.”