More than 5,000 persons with disabilities across the country took to Twitter on Sunday to share their financial hardships during the lockdown in the absence of the monetary assistance promised under Garib Kalyan Yojana and tagged Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the tweets.
The campaign called “PM hamari bhi suno” (PM listen to us, too) was launched on Sunday morning under the banner of Rashtriya Viklang Manch and over 5,000 persons had taken part by midnight.
Founded in 2011, Rashtriya Viklang Manch has a sizeable presence in over 10 states.
Majority of the tweets revealed how persons with disabilities were under the impression that the government would be providing them an ex-gratia of Rs 1,000 in two instalments as announced by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman and felt cheated when they didn’t.
“Over 2.68 crore (according to 2011 census) disabled in the country listened to the Prime Minister imposing a lockdown and the finance minister announcing an ex-gratia of Rs 1,000 in two instalments on March 25 as part of the Rs 1.7 lakh crore economic support package. But almost 80 per cent of the disabled have not received a single penny,” Rashtriya Viklang Manch’s national general secretary Arun Kumar Singh said.
“Upon enquiry with the respective state governments, we were told that only those having more than 80 per cent disability, between 18 and 79 years old, falling in the BPL category and linked with the National Social Assistance Programme of the rural development ministry were entitled to receive the assistance. We are feeling cheated as divyangs have been worst-hit by the coronavirus-induced lockdown. So we thought of reaching out to the PM on Twitter,” Singh added.
Baridih resident Singh, who himself is crippled by polio, shared data that showed that there were barely 28,000 persons who fulfilled all the criteria.
The over 5,000 tweets, whose content is almost the same, are accompanied by an 11-point charter of demand to the PMO. The demands include a financial assistance package of Rs 1,000 during the lockdown to all those with over 40 per cent disability, home delivery of ration for those with government disability certificates, an uniform pension policy under one nation, one pension for the disabled and protection against retrenchment during the lockdown for those engaged in private and semi-government units.
At present, the Centre grants Rs 300 as monthly aid and the state’s contribution varies from one state to the other. “We hope that the Prime Minister shows some sentiment and listens to our woes as the majority of the disabled are facing starvation because of lockdown. If this Twitter campaign fails, we have decided to upload videos narrating our problems next month and tag the PMO in them,” Singh said.
The fact that people with disabilities were badly hit by the lockdown is evident in the plight of PG degree holder and National Eligibility Test (NET) qualifier Rajan Kumar, 36, whose income dried up after the lockdown.
“I could not land a job in Kolhan University despite clearing NET in 2019 and was waiting to appear for the exam once again this year. I was teaching commerce graduate and intermediate students at a coaching institute in Sakchi that has been closed for three months now. During these three months, I have not earned a single penny. I have to pay rent and look after my wife, two daughters and an elderly father. I am virtually on the street now,” Rajan, who has polio in left leg, said.
“The central government has already released funds to the states for disbursal of assistance to persons with disabilities who qualify for the benefit,” said D.K. Panda, under-secretary, department of empowerment of persons with disabilities under the social justice empowerment ministry.