On the first Sunday of every month, hundreds of visually challenged people gather at a school in Matunga to collect a bag of grains and other groceries that will sustain them for the next few weeks. They travel from all over Maharashtra, hitching free rides on buses and trains.
On November 5, around 1500 peopke gathered at the food distribution programme organised by the Shree KVO Drashti Foundation for the Blind, a Jain group. This was the 49th month of the food programme. KVO, or Kutchi Visa Oswals, are a Jain sect.
1600 people to be served by next month
Bharat Gada, founder trustee of the charity, said that next month, when they complete 50 months of the programme, they hope to distribute groceries to 1600 people. "We hope to reach out to at least 2500 people every month," said Gada.
The idea to feed the blind came about when Gada was a trustee in the Kamla Mehta Dadar School For The Blind, founded over a century ago.
Students finding it hard to get jobs
"The school has around 200 students. Even after a school education, many of them do not get jobs and forced to beg in trains. I thought a monthly bag of groceries could help some of them," said Gada.
One of those who gathered at the school yesterday Kishore Shinde, a 44-year-old from Byculla. Shinde lost vision in both the eyes in 2008 when his truck he owned, which he had been driving, had an accident. The mishap damaged the optic nerves, leaving him completely blind. Though he has passed his class 12 exams and has trained as a computer operator he has been unable to find a regular job and hawks cutlery on suburban trains. The income from hawking is sporadic and when Railway Protection Force personnel seize his goods or fines him for illegal hawking, a week's worth of earnings can be lost.
"I had applied for jobs as a peon in government departments. I cleared an exam for 'class four' staff - as a peon - in the BMC but did not make it to the final list of candidates because I belong to a caste that is in the open category. My ranking was not high enough to get the job," said Shinde.
He stays with his sister and her family. His wife and daughter are in their village in Satara district. The bag of groceries that he receives is insufficient to feed his Mumbai family for a month. "The ration lasts only eight days, but it is still a help," said Shinde.
Contents of grocery bag
The grocery bag that Shinde received contained five kilogram each of wheat and rice, one kilogram each of sugar, edible oil, pulses and sugar, and half-a-kilogram of tea, apart from packets of cooked food.
Shinde said that some of the people who collect the free rations come from places as far as Kolhapur, Nagpur and Solapur.
"People travel from these places because even a bag of free groceries help them contribute to their family's resources," said Gada who added that he would like to deliver the groceries at a place close to the homes of the blind. "But funds are inadequate. Besides, Matunga has a lot of well-to-do families who donate when they see the programme.," said Gada.