The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Festival of darkness for family

Durgapur, Nov. 25: Happy Id is at the door but khushi (happiness) remains a distant dream for Khayerunnisa Bibi, a mother of eight, five of them blind.

The 80-year-old woman of Amrai village mothered three sons and two daughters who could never see light even as she waged a war against penury with the hope to see the end of the tunnel.

Khayerunnisa’s second son Sheikh Aasim, 40, was born blind. Shabir, Zakir, Maleka and Ayesha, too. Maleka and Ayesha were married to their cousins and have been staying in the same house for the past six years.

Maleka had a daughter five years ago. She is blind.

Poverty has prevented the family from consulting a specialist. Khayerunnisa is still pinning hopes on “some assistance” from the district administration.

Hamid, Gulzar and Akhtar, Khayerunnisa’s more fortunate sons, sell dry leaves. A square meal a day is a luxury for the large family. The youths never went to school. Their blind brothers often help them collect the leaves now.

“We do not have a water connection or a toilet. Before the (Durgapur municipal) corporation election last year, candidates of several political parties had promised to solve our water problem but the situation remains the same,” said Maleka, sitting on the floor of Khayerunnisa’s hut, the daughter in her lap.

The subdivisional health administration had issued a disability certificate to each blind member of the family.

Sheikh Aasim said the certificate hardly provides any security, not even the reserved seats for the disabled in buses. “The conductors are scornful.”

Hamid showed a letter issued by the assistant director of health services (ophthalmology) requesting the then Burdwan magistrate to arrange government help for the family. No help has been offered yet.

District magistrate Subroto Gupta said he was not aware of any such letter. “Durgapur Municipal Corporation chairman M.. Prasad may know,” he said. Prasad declined comment.

Osman Goni, the subdivisional officer, agreed that the administration could not offer substantial help to the family but promised to “arrange for some gifts on Id”.

Local councillor Sonali Mukherjee said: “We have decided to build a proper toilet in their house with the corporation’s funds but can do nothing more to improve their lot.”

Freebies on Id and the promise of a permanent toilet, that should keep Khayerunnisa going, Allah willing.

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