STANDING TOGETHER

World News Day: No money for food and rent as Covid-19 upends blind couple's life

Mr Dharman and his wife Uganthai with their two-year-old son Rohit. The couple used to sell items on local trains to earn a living, but lost their income after rail services were halted.
Mr Dharman and his wife Uganthai with their two-year-old son Rohit. The couple used to sell items on local trains to earn a living, but lost their income after rail services were halted.PHOTO: THE QUINT

Forty-year-old Dharman and Uganthai are a visually challenged couple living in Chengalpattu in Tamil Nadu.

As the pandemic altered lives, instilling a fear of touching things before sanitising them, the couple faced their worst fear - how could the blind survive without touch?

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

All through our conversation, Ms Uganthai sported a beautiful smile. On getting 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 hot spot. The street they live in has been allocated by the government and more than 30 visually challenged people live here in small 100 sq ft homes.

When they step out to buy essentials, they fear falling prey to the coronavirus. "The coronavirus is scary. We don't know how it is going to attack us. We try not going outdoors but we have to go out at least thrice a week for milk and other things," said Mr Dharman.

LIVES DEPENDENT ON TRAINS BROUGHT TO A HALT

Blissfully married for four years, the couple had fought against their family who disapproved of their relationship. The couple had been selling pens, chikki (an Indian sweet), and accessories on local trains to earn a living.

Since mid-March, when the nationwide lockdown was imposed, rail services have halted and so has their income.

"The life we treasured in the past four years has got worse over the past four months. I've never faced as many difficulties as I faced in the past four months.

"We used to go out and earn 200 rupees (S$4) to 400 rupees if we worked hard. But now we can't earn even 50 rupees," Ms Uganthai said. Their landlord has warned them of eviction as three months of rent stand due.

With coronavirus cases on the rise, they are considering alternative livelihoods. "Nobody will buy food items because everyone is scared of the coronavirus. 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 have helped them get by.

AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE

Mr Dharman holds a bachelor's degree from Presidency College and a Bachelor of Education from Katpadi Government College. However, he has not been able to find a stable job to date.

They have appealed to the government to provide them with monthly financial aid and a house so that they "don't have to fear dying of hunger every day".

Their two-year-old speech-impaired son keeps them on their toes. While Ms Uganthai shares her aspirations of seeing Rohit grow up to be an administrative service officer some day, a more forbearing Mr Dharman says: "I'm all right with whatever he chooses to become."

• This story was contributed by The Quint for World News Day 2020.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2020, with the headline 'No money for food and rent as Covid-19 upends blind couple's life'. Print Edition | Subscribe