‘No Money for Food, Rent’: How COVID Upset a Blind Couple’s Life

During this pandemic, when you need to be careful about what you touch, for them, touching is their way of life.

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Video Editor: Deepthi Ramdas
Cameraperson & Producer:
Smitha TK

Dharman was standing at the side of the road, wearing his warmest smile and waving in the air. When he heard me call out his name, he led the way into a narrow street, tugged at the iron wire wound around the wooden gate and invited us into his home. The board ‘Kannu theriyadhavar theru’ (the blind people’s street) stood in our way. Uganthai’s ‘Vaanga, vaanga! Kaapi saapadareengala?’ (Welcome! Would you like some coffee?) was heard even before we could see her, and as she appeared, little Rohit was seen too – coyly hiding behind his mother.

40-year-old Dharman and Uganthai are a visually challenged couple living in Chengalpattu in Tamil Nadu. As the pandemic altered lives, instilling fear of touching things before sanitising them, this couple faced their worst fear – how can the blind survive without touching?

But with that posing a major health risk, they have been confined to their homes for months now, reeling from financial stress, struggling to make ends meet.

40-year-old Dharman and Uganthai are a visually challenged couple living in Chengalpattu, in the outskirts of Chennai.
40-year-old Dharman and Uganthai are a visually challenged couple living in Chengalpattu, in the outskirts of Chennai.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

All through our conversation Uganthai sported a beautiful smile. On winning a compliment, she laughed out loud and said, “You should be glad you are not seeing me cry as usual”.

Chengalpattu is a COVID-19 hotspot. The street they reside in has been allocated by the government and over 30 visually challenged persons live here in small 100-square feet homes.

Every day as they step out to buy essentials, they fear falling prey to coronavirus. “Corona is scary. We don’t know how it’s gonna attack us. We try not going outdoors but we have to go out at least thrice a week for milk and other things,” said Dharman.

During this pandemic, when you have to be careful about what you touch, for them, touching is their way of life.
During this pandemic, when you have to be careful about what you touch, for them, touching is their way of life.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

Lives Dependant on Trains Brought to A Halt

Happily married for four years, the couple had fought against their family who disapproved of their love.
Happily married for four years, the couple had fought against their family who disapproved of their love.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

Blissfully married for four years, the couple had fought against their family who disapproved of their relationship. The couple had been selling pens, chikki, accessories on local trains to earn a living. Since mid-March, when the nationwide lockdown was imposed, rail services halted and so did their income.

“Our life we treasured in the past four years has gotten worse over the past four months. I've faced so many difficulties in the past four months which I never did all my life. We used to go out and earn Rs Rs 200- Rs 400 if we worked hard. But now we can’t earn even Rs 50,” she said.

Their landlord has warned them of eviction as three months of rent stand due.

 Since mid-March, when the nationwide lockdown was imposed, rail services have halted and so has their incomes.
Since mid-March, when the nationwide lockdown was imposed, rail services have halted and so has their incomes.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

With coronavirus cases on the rise, they are considering alternate livelihoods. “Nobody will buy food items because everyone is scared of corona. We will probably sell toys for kids. But even then our life is dependent on the trains. We can do everything only there,” the couple said.

For now, a few meagre donations from friends and well-wishers get them by.

An Uncertain Future

Two-year-old Rohit is hearing impaired.
Two-year-old Rohit is hearing impaired.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)
Their child is speech impaired but the parents are confident he will grow up to be an IAS officer someday.
Their child is speech impaired but the parents are confident he will grow up to be an IAS officer someday.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

Dharman holds a Bachelors degree from Presidency College and a B Ed from Katpadi Government College. However, he has not been able to find a stable job till date.

They have appealed to the government to provide them monthly financial aid and a house so that they “don’t have to fear dying of hunger everyday”.

Their two-year-old speech-impaired son keeps them on their toes. While Uganthai shares her aspirations of seeing Rohit grow up to be an IAS officer someday, a more forbearing Dharman says “I’m alright with whatever he chooses to become”.

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