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“Although I have a disability I am the sole man of the household, so I do feel the pressure”

Jagmohan Thakur (39) has painful memories of how, as a child, he would literally crawl the five km to and from school, a humiliating effort that took him four hours. Polio struck when he was a mere six-month-old. His parents, agricultural labourers who live in Janjgiri village, 40 km from Durg in Chhattisgarh, took him to a local _vaid_ who used traditional methods like heating a scythe and warming the ailing baby with it.
With 95 per cent disability, Jagmohan, the oldest child followed by a brother, Ajay, and a sister, Sunita, was admitted to school only when he turned 10. He endured it for a few years: leaving home at 8 a.m. and returning at 8 p.m., avoiding being trampled by cattle, and surviving on just one meal. Sometimes teachers were kind enough to bring him food or gave money to other children to get him biscuits and so on. He was diligent till Class 2 but soon became irregular, giving up at Class 5.
There was a TV repair shop en route and being keen on watching serials, he began spending time there. The shopkeeper would invite him in and Jagmohan would watch him work, observing every move. It was the radio era, and he learned radio repair as well. Soon he started doing all sorts of repair work and making torches at home. When he was about 13, people told him, “You are very bright; you are able to do so much without any education.” His neighbour handed him a watch and asked him to repair it saying it was okay even if he spoiled it. Jagmohan asked around and found out how to clean the watch with petrol. This success motivated him to learn more and get into repairing other things like speakers, soon graduating to cassette and CD players.
Since he could not go everywhere on his own, he would ask friends to buy the accessories for repair, but when he sent his mother to collect the repair charges, customers would not pay. A friend’s brother, impressed by Jagmohan’s skills, got him a loan of ₹15,000 from the panchayat. But unfortunately, his father met with an accident and the money was spent on medical expenses. With no other income, he fell into debt and had to hide from his creditors. When he got a tricycle from the government, people mocked him, telling him to turn to begging. “If you beg on the train and in big public places, you will earn more than enough.” Meanwhile, his father died.
Jagmohan used to share all his problems with his neighbour Pinki Bai. He mentioned his plan to run away and she said she would also go with him as there would be no one to take care of him. So, the youngsters, he 19 and she 18, eloped to Raipur. After three years, they got married in a mass marriage event, at which they received household goods, and later (since he had a disability) ₹50,000 from the district collector. They lay low for almost 15 years, and his family thought he had died. By the time he got back in touch with them, he was a father of three: Saraswati, Laxmi and Dhanraj. Since then, his mother Bahura Bai and sister Sunita Bhuarya have been living with him.
Things looked up for a bit when he got an electric tricycle from the government. He did his usual R&D and started repairing it. There were many takers for this skill and he was making about ₹17,000 a month. Pinki and the children also pitched in, learning the repair work. But since the last few years, the internet has eaten into his earnings as there is a lot of stuff people can do on their own now. Today, the family is leading a hardscrabble life. Pinki, and the teenaged daughters (Saraswati is 18 and Laxmi, 17) who have been forced to give up school, have been working as domestic help. Dhanraj, the 11-year-old son, is staying with an uncle.
The family relies on the kindness of their landlord who provides electricity for free and has employed Pinki as house help. It is still a long haul for Jagmohan, now 39, who gets a mere ₹500 as disability pension. Saraswati wants to do a computer course or a sewing course, but money is tight. When the women go out to work, he does the cooking, but he feels the pressure of being, though disabled, the only man of the household.


Vicky Roy