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Sightsavers Reports

Campaigning against disability discrimination: Bhagirath’s story

November 2014
Bhagirath runs a provision shop.

Strong-willed, determined and passionate: just three of the words that describe Bhagirath, a Rajasthani man who campaigns tirelessly to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities.

Bhagirath runs a provision shop and a flour and oil mill to earn his livelihood, as well as working at the local electricity department, and lives with his parents, wife and four children.

In 2000 – at the age of 26 – his left leg became trapped in a machine at a steel mill, and he lost his limb from the knee down. “Initially, I felt all my dreams were shattered and that life would be useless without a leg,” he recalls. “At first I walked with crutches, but then I got an artificial leg. Now my problems aren’t as bad as I thought they would be.”

 

Bhagirath lives with his parents, wife and four children.

Fighting against discrimination

Rather than allow his personal situation get him down, Bhagirath has used his education and outgoing nature to become a mouthpiece for others with disabilities. “I was lucky to not be discriminated against after my accident, but that’s not the case with everyone,” he says. “Those born with a disability, or who have contracted polio – they are considered a burden. Some say they should just be left to die. I want to help them – and their community – to understand that they can live a full life.”

Campaigning for disability rights

Bhagirath’s work as a campaigner began in 2010 when a friend told him about a meeting of the URMUL Trust, which works to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Straightaway, he wanted to get involved. “At the meetings, when others hear people like me say we are running our own shops and supporting our families, it motivates them to do the same. They see that it’s possible. It makes them realise they too can lead dignified lives.”

Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), set up by the URMUL Trust, are groups of people with disabilities working together to achieve tangible goals such as obtaining government loans to start businesses, change people’s attitudes towards disability, and improve environments for easier mobility. “DPOs make such a difference,” says Bhagirath, who is now himself a DPO leader. “People with disabilities used to just sit at home. Now they can get about thanks to free travel passes. They can get their message heard by government officials. They can find out their rights and apply for a pension or loan.”

“We are supporting our families”

Read the transcript of Bhagirath’s interview.

Bhagirath has protested in front of government officials to demand better rights, and is calling on the government to increase the three per cent reservation for jobs for people with disabilities at both state and central level. He also asks that private companies allow more people with disabilities to enter mainstream work.

“Government officials used to say: there are a lot of disabled people. How many can we really help? They would send us away, disregard us,” he says. “Before, when people put in applications for the livelihood scheme [which helped Bhagirath set up his shop], even when these applications were approved, the banks were not releasing the money because they thought the recipients would not be able to repay. The DPO filed a case against these bank managers and now they are processing those loans.”

Employment for all

Bhagirath has benefitted so much from the work of the DPO that he felt it only right to get involved and do the same for others. “The government has schemes in place to help people with disabilities, I just wanted to help others find out about and access them,” he says. “I’m now able to work and I’m grateful for that. I want to support more disabled people. That is my dream.”

Bhagirath smiles as he works.

“I want to support more disabled people. That is my dream.”

Bhagirath smiles as he works.

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