Model Self Help

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A specially-abled man, fought odds to survive but struggled to create a difference for the people rendered imperfect by birth or the situation. Faheem Mir visits the Home that handicapped people have set up as a community initiative 

Mohammad Iqbal

The only help he requires in a day when his tricycle is unable to manage the slow ascend towards the Srinagar’s Budshah Bridge. Invariably the passers-by help him and he reaches Jehangir Chowk where he sells pens.

Iqbal has no holiday. For most of the day, he is seen hawking his single item: the pen. That makes him special and different.

A resident of Danov Kandimarg, Iqbal belongs to a poor family. Suffering from polio, his crisis was to manage his family that has no source of income. After discussing various options, Iqbal finally decided to move to Srinagar in 2005. He started selling handbags on the city footpaths.

One day, one of his friends suggested him to sell pens near a school. He rented a room in Fateh Kadal for Rs 1000, a month and started working permanently.

Big places have many people with big hearts. One day, an unknown man gifted him a tricycle. It eased part of Iqbal’s mobility crisis. “I literally converted the cycle into a mobile shop and included a few new items like knives, pencils,” Iqbal said. “It doubled my earnings to Rs 100, a day.”

Iqbal struggled to improve his life. He would work from 8 am to 6 pm. Later, his father and brother joined him. Then, there was devastating 2014 flood. Iqbal’s cycle was washed away. His father Gulzar Ahmad and brother Aijaz Ahmad returned home to Kulgam. He was back to square one. Once again, Iqbal returned to the footpath to sell his items as mobility was a major crisis.

DIGNIFIED LIVING

Handicap is a limitation and there are people who defy it. Watch this short film to understand how a couple of handicapped people have joined hands to trigger a change in their lives. They are the models in their own right for the society in general and specially-abled people in particular.

Posted by Kashmir Life on Thursday, April 19, 2018

After months of hard work, he finally purchased a new tricycle. Now the occasional tensions are when a car hits his tricycle and makes it immobile. “Managing tyre puncture is so difficult that sometimes it takes hours,” Iqbal said. “But God sends his own hands to help me and that is how I manage all this despite being handicapped.”

Given the limitations of resources and capacity, Iqbal makes a modest earning. But whatever he saves, he sends it home. He is the eldest of six siblings including two sisters and sees his status as being the cushion of the family. His modest savings have helped the family manage marriage of his two sisters. Personally, he visits the family once in a month.

But what is remarkable about Iqbal is that while struggling to survive and helping his family, he saved enough and is currently on Umarh. “I had a dream that I should go for prayers in the Kaaba,” Iqbal said, before taking off for the Umrah, last week. “I had saved pennies to make it happen.”

What has greatly helped Iqbal improved his status was another especially-abled man. His name is Abdul Rashid Bhat, who heads the J&K Handicapped Association. Personally inflicted by polio, Bhat also hails from Kulgam’s Ahmadpora village and has been living in Srinagar since 1990.

The Association runs its own Home in Nowpora area of old city. The Home offers free boarding and lodging to the specially-abled people in the city.

“I asked Iqbal to join us many times but he refused and said that he didn’t want to be dependent on anyone,” Bhat said. “After consistent instance, he finally joined us in November 2016.”

While operating from the Home, Iqbal said Bhat never asked for the money even when he was in dire need. “I offered him money from my savings but he never accepted,” Iqbal insisted.

Bhat, 40, is a huge role model. Since his migration to Srinagar in the 1990s, he has been fighting for the rights of the, specially-abled people. “Then, the situation was very bad,” Bhat said. “Everybody was getting caught in a crackdown or an encounter.”

Gradually, however, Bhat converted his weakness into strength and started selling street food near Solina. A year later, he shifted near LD Hospital and started selling tea on the roadside.

Working for two years near the hospital, Bhat was displaced by Srinagar Municipal Committee. “They destroyed my temporary shed and I was devastated,” Bhat said.

But the dedication and hard work brought him to Batmaloo where he put a cart. Gradually the earnings improved he started selling readymade clothing too.

But he survived a crippling event. In 2002, a grenade exploded very close to him injuring his customers and himself. There were 16 people who were injured in the attack and one of them, Shabir Ahmad, a resident of Firdousabad, lost his eye in the explosion. “I knew nothing, when I opened my eyes I was in a hospital and doctors said I have lot many splinters in the head,” Bhat said. “It took a huge emotional toll on me as I saw the families of other injured visiting them but mine did not know anything about the tragedy.”

Abdul Rashid Bhat

Once Bhat recovered, he left home. After a long rest, he applied for self-employment loan and bought a Tata Somu. “I purchased a taxi and employed a driver,” Bhat said. “Three years later, I purchased another taxi. But due to some financial crises in the family, I sold both of them”.

By then, he had spent five years in Ahmadpora. Seeing no hope of an alternative source of income, Bhat returned back to Srinagar. This time, he rented a room in Batamaloo and jumped back to the flea market. Gradually he started earning again.

It was in this phase that he started participating in protests for the rights of handicapped by the Association which had been founded by Ghulam Mohammed Lone in 2000. “My life experience was enough to know the hardships of the handicapped persons,” Bhat said. “I almost fitted in the role of an activist for the underprivileged lot.”

After becoming part of Association, Bhat worked in different positions and finally was elected as president in 2013. “My first decision was to hire a house in Nowpora locality in the old city for the handicapped,” Bhat said.

“I was well aware of the hardships faced by physically challenged students, patients and other people from the far-flung areas when they visited  Srinagar. I started this service because I have experienced the crisis by spending nights in Masjids and other places”.

In Nowpora home, Bhat is seemingly head of the family. A young man is preparing tea, the other one is washing dishes in the kitchen and both these specially abled men are from Kupwara.

The shopkeepers and residents of the area help them financially manage the Home. “We collect donations from people around us and use that for the food, clothing and shelter, we are paying Rs 15000 rent for 6 rooms,” Bhat said.

Bhat, who is now one of the most experienced men, said their population does not require huge funds. “We need certain basics,” Bhat said. “We have to have a reservation, we need to be accepted as self-help groups, and we must get BPL category privilege and most importantly we need a place where we don’t have to pay any rent or very less”.

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