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Sweeping away woes

The family of a sweeper, who lost both his legs to an injury he suffered while cleaning the drainage without any safety gear, is struggling to make ends meet

Suman, 40, wakes up at 6 am every day, completes the household chores, prepares her dabba and leaves with her son Mohit to sweep the streets of various residential colonies in Noida. She gets Rs 7,000 monthly, while her son gets Rs 10,000. However, their schedule wasn’t always like this, it wasn’t Mohit who cleaned the streets and drainage for 30 years  — it was his father Kali Charan.

Two years ago, Charan, then 48 years old and a resident of Gajraj Colony — a small settlement in Noida — left for work at seven in the morning. He swept the streets of some of the poshest residential areas of the city as usual. However, just when he was about to finish cleaning the drainage, a sharp iron piece grazed the sole of his foot.

“I ignored it completely because there was no sign of blood, I thought it was not anything to stress about,” recalls Charan.

He didn’t go to a doctor, didn’t take any anti-septic medication and continued working. After six months, one day he felt a sudden pain in his right foot, but he still ignored it.

The intensity of the pain kept increasing, and he finally decided to see a local doctor. He was referred to Lok Nayak Hospital in Delhi, as the doctor suspected the problem was serious.

At the hospital, he got to know that both his legs had been infected by that injury, which he had been ignoring for several months thinking it to be something minor.

The report which Suman showed to Patriot says that an “above knee amputation is required” and will lead to “85 per cent physical impairment” to Charan.

An operation was suggested to be conducted immediately.

“I was not able to understand much of what the doctor said, but all I knew was that I will be a different person once the operation gets done,” says Charan, as his voice begins to choke. .

Suman, who was with her husband during the operation, recalls the shocking news, “As much as I wanted to blame my husband for his ignorance, I also wanted to blame the contractor Omkar Chauhan for not providing him with adequate safety gear. Had he been wearing protective shoes, a small iron piece would not have made him lose his legs.

Paying the hospital bill also came at a huge cost — they had to put in all the savings they had for their daughter’s wedding. The post-operative care also came hard on the family, with the rising bills of medicines.

More than compensation, the family needed help. It came their way in the form of donations from the residents of the areas where Charan used to sweep. But they received no financial support from the contractor or the organisation he worked for — Jan Swasthiya Vibhag.

Although the organisation gave Charan’s family Rs 40,000 when he was hospitalised for three months, it was not donation, but a loan. A loan which the family is paying off till now.

“We did not want to repay the loan amount. They could have counted it as help, but they did not. We postponed it for a year, but then they started asking for it repeatedly. Now it’s been two months and money is being deducted from our salary to pay off the debt,” tells Suman.

Charan also received a wheelchair as donation, which Suman tells, their youngest son — Sonu — uses as a toy car most of the times.

“When we went to the contractor, who always used to give us work, he totally ridiculed our argument. Although it was an injury, but it was his duty to provide him shoes. We just asked him for some help, but he refused it as if it was our fault,” tells Suman.

As months passed by with Charan trying hard to lead a normal life , time came for the second surgery — to remove his second (left) leg.

“Both the surgeries amounted to Rs 4-5 lakh, we had some Rs 2.5 lakh for our daughter’s wedding. Now we don’t have any money left to get her married,” says Charan.

After the news of his surgery and the reason behind it started doing rounds in the neighbourhood, many local leaders and Parshads came to their rescue. However, “Everyone basically fooled us, we were given many assurances that we will get compensation and a job as well, but nothing happened,” says Suman.

The family also visited the IO of the police for help but they received nothing but assurances. Dinesh Valmiki, district officer of Uttar Pradesh Safai Mazdoor Sangh and Ramesh Kir, town officer, also visited the family but “they kept on giving us assurances and now they don’t even pick my calls.”

The family lives in a two-room house for which they pay Rs 5,000 as rent. And with a family of seven, their financial situation is a major constraint, but “what can I do now? I can only watch things happening sitting on this charpoy.”

Nowadays, the situation is such that Mohit has been asked not to bring his mother along with him to work. “He says that again she will ask for money and tells me to come alone to work,” Mohit says. Two neighbours, Praveen and Vinod Kumar, who were sitting with Charan
during this conversation, also participated in bashing the contractor.

Praveen, a sweeper and a resident of Gajraj Colony, says “The contractor didn’t even come once to ask how he (Charan) is doing. But we don’t really have the power to do anything against him.”

Today, Charan only wishes for two things — his daughter to get married and a permanent job in the municipal corporation.

“People there (municipal corporation) get paid fairly. I was not paid well when I could work, but now I want it for my son. He’s still very young and he should have a sustainable income and employee benefits too,” concludes Charan.