Will the truth prevail?

Pramod Dev (name changed) a visually impaired (VI) 45-year-old man from Pune is fighting an almost forgotten legal tussle. The battle he did not have the confidence to take up before, the battle he thought he would give up. Now with the assistance of Eyeway, Pramod has started a fresh case against the BSNL telephone operators for the fraudulence he was victimized to, more than 15 years ago.

In 1983, when he started a PCO (Public Call Office) in Pune at a time when technology was not as available and abundant like it is now, it was his only livelihood. It was a way to survive in a society that highly marginalized the disabled. PCOs were a market in itself where many people relied on a living and also the government provided it as a welfare measure to the poor. Pramod took two BSNL numbers/connections for his PCO. It was a time when making a telephone call was rare and cumbersome, thus this business had significant demand. But Pramod never anticipated that in a few years he would be tricked by some corrupt officials of BSNL to pay unwarranted telephone bills.

Assuming his disability as an opportunity to cheat, the corrupt officials withheld the bill of payments for one of his numbers/connections over many months and gradually manipulated it. When he enquired at the time on this situation of issuing no ‘bill of costs’, he was made to believe that everything was normal. He waited and tried to clarify from the BSNL office but to no avail.  Finally, when the bill was issued it turned up an exorbitant amount of Rs. 50,000 which he knew was the result of some malpractice. Hardly could he challenge this situation at that time, except to entreat the officers to show some sympathy. His attempts to convey his side of the story fell on deaf ears. Managers and officials forced him to pay the costs soon to avoid any legal consequences. On deeper inquiry, he understood that he was cheated by incorporating the costs incurred to another BSNL client who was issued the same connection as his. But he was incapacitated economically and socially to bring the culprits to light and get justice.

On the advice of a senior manager in BSNL, Pramod agreed to bear the costs and pay the amount in installments of Rs. 850 per month. And by 2004 he settled the entire amount with a lot of struggle. The thought of his honesty being tainted and denied any opportunity to fight for justice weakened him morally. Pramod knocked on many doors for support but many of the responses didn’t convince him. Neither police nor lawyers helped, not taking him seriously because he was blind and poor. But he maintained his communication with the Pune Blind Men Association (PBMA), Lion’s Club, Pune, Bank of Maharashtra, Pune and Pune Municipal Corporation, who supported him financially and morally at different stages. Though these institutions encouraged him to challenge BSNL legally, he lacked the confidence and the financial means. At the same time, he was also pressured not to take up any legal routes against BSNL from different corners. He was scared of fighting a government authority, unsure of the security for his wife and three children.

But surprisingly, in 2018 on hearing the Eyeway radio promos and the list of services Eyeway provides, Pramod contacted our helpline. He shared his ordeal and the Eyeway counselor encouraged him to take up the case against BSNL. Eyeway counselor instilled in Pramod the confidence to fight the legal battle. He was also informed of the possibilities of fighting the case and his case becoming a precedent for averting similar exploitations in the future for other visually impaired people. Pramod was connected to Eyeway partner Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), wherefrom he was provided more legal inputs. But engaging a lawyer meant shelling money from his pocket at a time where his household is entirely dependent on his wife’s income from the tea stall she runs.

But now being emotionally empowered and legally informed after the intervention by Eyeway, he has forwarded his case to the Human Rights department of Pune with the backing of Pune Blind Men’s Association (PBMA). This is one among the many cases where the vulnerability of a visually impaired individual is exploited by different authorities. With Eyeway handling a large number of similar cases of exploitation of visually impaired people, this is an issue of import.  Visually impaired people are still treated as ‘outsiders’ at workplaces, in education, for accessibility etc. which all culminate in cases of unjustifiable discrimination. Pramod’s case is worse than that.

Eyeway will lend all available assistance to Pramod Dev so that his case will obtain the deserving attention and justice is served.