One man alone in a crowd of around 50 or more women is a site one seldom comes across in this unpredictable city except for in the Mumbai local women’s compartment, which is the source of income for many others like Ramvijay Jadhav. An ex-athlete, what makes visually impaired Ramvijay different from others in the race for survival is his passion for self-dependency. This passion led Ramvijay to drop his final year and rather pursue his dream of participating in the 2002 Para Asian Games in Bucheon, South Korea. He humbly narrates, “I actively participated in sports during my years in school. Suddenly after getting selected for the Para Asian Games in South Korea while in college, I spent my final year arranging for money, around more than a lakh, and practicing for the tournament. Since the government hadn’t spent a single rupee back then, I had to look for sponsorships.” Ramvijay performed in running, long jump, javelin throw, discuss throw and arm wrestling and so he did with his mind being his coach, his heart being his supporter and a friend, the likes of who change with changing situations today, by his side.
Another part of his story makes for a new one altogether. He says it was the competence he gathered due to lack of support from the people he most expected it from, his brothers that drove him to Mumbai. Regular complaints from his brothers encouraged Ramvijay to shift to Mumbai around five months back, however, alone. “My wife and children are currently living in Ner tehsil (Yavatmal district, Maharashtra), not too far from where my joint family lives so that they can concentrate on their studies. I asked my wife to use her time and vision to look after our children and their studies and leave the rest to me. So I provide for them from whatever I earn in Mumbai,” he said. He conducts business with a 25 percent margin but his cautious smile explains the insecurities and risks that come with it and the earnings too humble to enjoy working in the monsoon that is upon us. However, one can’t help but be surprised at Ramvijay’s understanding of his market audience at the ground level. This expertise reflects when he shares that business has been quite slow since a few days as, since Mumbai mainly comprises of people from other cities and states, people are away on vacation this season. Not only this, Mr. Jadhav also knows his currency well. “The Rs 500 note is smaller than the Rs 100 note, so with the note’s size and thickness I can determine if the customer has paid the right amount for what he/she has bought.”
Despite the challenges Ramvijay Jadhav faces without his vision, he leads the Amravati Unit of the National Federation of the Blind as general secretary. Hailing from an economically weak section himself, Ramvijay says in a proud tone that the federation’s aim is not to give money but to empower the blind with skills that will further ensure the inflow of money earned on their own hard work. As we climb the stairs to head to platform no. 5 at Borivali station, Ramvijay smiles at my reply to the wave of ignorant commuters asking him to watch and walk. “I am used to it now. There are many people who help too. Besides I had spent a few years here before to get training in physiotherapy from Victoria Memorial School, so I am not really a stranger to Mumbai’s ways.” His story is nothing short of an example, more so for those with vision; as it is this disability if at all it is, that makes Ramvijay a leader who hopes to have his own hawker’s stall in the city where he can employ someone for assistance. Throughout my social work that I have been interested in since childhood, he says, and the little jobs that I have worked through 43 years of my life, I have always acted as a participant among laborers and workers to send across the message that I know what I am doing. “A pinch of trust with confidence is enough to get you through,” he says, smiling as if saying that it’s not all dark in behind those closed eyes.
He concludes with the most hopeful of things every underprivileged in this country asks for and that is the implementation of the acts, laws, facilities and property reserved for the blind. If this is implemented wholeheartedly, he says, we will be seen just as much a contributing section to the nation and the economy as any other privileged or able citizen. “We do not ask for anything for free, we just ask for our rights to survive.” Just as his train arrives, Ramvijay Jadhav is back into the second class women’s compartment, unpacking his goodies, ready to sell. The train leaves and echoes of his voice calling out to commuters to buy the goodies is left behind at platform no. 5.