New Delhi “Our mornings here are spent wringing our blankets which are wet with dew,” says SK Verma, a 25-year-old disabled protester from Bihar, who has been protesting at Mandi House for a week, demanding employment.
“The cold at night is unbearable and we can barely sleep for two to three hours. All-day long, we have persistent headaches. But if we go back home, we will die. So it is better to stay here and fight,” he said, pulling his thin blanket closer.
Kumar is among hundreds of disabled people who have been protesting since last week against the Indian Railways for allegedly not giving them Group D jobs, which they claim they had qualified for.
Since November 26, protesters have been camping near Mandi House. However, now with the onset of winter, they are facing a hard time. Many had left home from different parts of the country a couple of weeks ago and have even run out of clean clothes.
Several disabled persons confessed that they hadn’t showered or eaten properly in days. “Even the public washrooms are not accessible to us,” said Vikas, a 23-year-old protester from Bihar.
“We had expected them to listen to our demands within a day or two. Some of us are buying food and water, or paying to use the disabled-friendly washrooms in Metro stations and are running out of whatever financial resources they had,” said Gaurav, a 27-year-old protester with locomotor disability. “We can’t even light a brazier as we run the risk of being fined.”
On Wednesday, the night temperature was 7.9 degrees Celsius — the season’s lowest, so far. Previously, Delhi experienced the coldest morning of the season, with the mercury plummeting to 8 degrees Celsius on Monday.
Scientists at the India Meteorological Department (IMD) warned of colder days through next week, with the minimum temperature likely to dip to 7 degrees Celsius by Friday.
“People come here to give us food, water, and warm clothes. This is how we have been living just to demand our rights,” said Vikas, another protester.
The protesters said they were expecting a positive response on Tuesday, since it was the International Day for Disabled Persons. “But we were only left disappointed,” Gaurav said.
Shravan Kumar, 34, a member of Rashtriya Viklang Sangharsh Morcha, said, “Our lives are such that we are facing these problems since our childhood. Even here, we sat through winter rains because there is no other solution but to protest and demand our rights.”
A senior official of the Indian Railways said they have made constant outreach efforts to resolve the issue and held a meeting on Wednesday evening at Rail Bhavan. “The Railways continues to remain committed to the cause of Divyangjans. Any specific irregularities or grievances, if pointed out, will be promptly examined and corrective action, if necessitated, taken. This has been repeatedly emphasised to the protesters,” the official said, adding that the appointment process has been “transparent, fair, and in accordance with statutory provisions.”