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.”
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.”
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.”