Anyone who's traveled in a Mumbai local has seen posters which warn you against crossing the railway tracks, and to use the foot overbridge. But imagine a station where there are no pedestrian bridges and you have no choice but to cross the railways tracks to get to the other side. Then imagine that you're visually-challenged and are crossing the railway track each day, because you rely on the trains for your livelihood. It's not a crossing that you can make with ease or with guarantee of your life.
For 350 visually impaired people in Vangani, that lies in Thane district, crossing railway tracks is something they are forced to do every day of their lives. The Vangani station, which is one of the oldest stations on the Central Line of the Mumbai's suburban railway network lies between Badlapur and Shelu, has no pedestrian bridges.
According to Dr Atul Jaiswal, who's working in rural areas of Karjat and Vangani for rehabilitation of physically challenged people for the two years as part of a project at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, there are nearly 350 people with visual impairment in a population of 8000 people in Vangani.
In a conversation with Firstpost, Atul said that for the visually impaired in Vangani, the trains are a major source of livelihood
"They are mostly in the hawker business. Not everyone has a full time job. They earn their living by selling daily use items like paper soaps, key chains, locks with chains, card holders, toys etc to the commuters of Mumbai locals," he said.
"They go out in three batches, usually couples. The first is early in the morning, the second in mid-afternoon and third at little later in the evening. The problem becomes worse when they are caught by the RPF. Very often, the RPF will take all their goods and push them out of the train onto the station, which makes it so much worse for them as they are visually challenged," he said.
He added, "The irony is that every station between Kajrat and CST has a foot-bridge, except Vangani, a place to which so many visually challenged people have migrated."
But for the visually challenged, their problems don't end at the station.
"All local trains have reserved compartments for persons with disability. However, they are more often than not, packed with non-disabled people. Many a times people will push the blind out of the way to get on to the train," he said.
Atul, teamed with up Change.Org and Video Volunteers to help spread awareness on the issue. On online petition was filed on Change.org addressed to the Railways minister seeking that the Budget for 2013-2014 should provide a foot-over-bridge for the station. In addition they want more hawker licenses to be provided for the visually-challenged and strict action against non-disabled people traveling in coaches reserved for the them. Nearly 6,000 people signed the petition in less than 10 days.
A short documentary was also made on the issue by Video Volunteers. You can watch the YouTube video below.
Amol Lalzare, a Community Correspondent from Video Volunteers who made the film, said, “It was very shocking for me to see blind people crossing the track, risking their lives. It gave me an impetus to raise the issue in public.”
Atul and his team also took the petition to the Additional General Manager of the Central Railways, Mr GS Banerjee, highlighting how the station was not at all disabled-friendly and stressed the need for an over-bridge. While the Central Railways has agreed to included the construction of a physically challenged-friendly bridge at Vangani in today's Railway Budget 2013, the group is now pinning its hopes on the Railway Minister.
They have started another petition to the railway minister for including their demand in his budget.
You can view the petition here.
Updated Date: Feb 26, 2013 11:10 AM