From childhood to adulthood, the blind nagara drummer boy begging on the stretch of the AT Road next to the Bisturam Barooah hall is almost as much an institution of Jorhat as the historic hall by the side of which he used to beat out a rhythm on a pair of nagara drums.
Of late, however, he has shifted base.
Bhaiti Dutta, the blind drummer as he is known to the people here, has moved to the sidewalk next to the British era Jorhat Court building and this act of Bhaiti seems to be symbolic of seeking justice from a system which is more blind to his predicament than he physically is.
Bhaiti lost his father about a month back and cannot make his way alone to the sidewalk next to the Bisturam Barooah Hall. He now travels by auto-rickshaw from his home at Panichokuwa, Borbhetti, about 12 km away to the northwestern side, on the outskirts of the town and after alighting at the stand near Baruah Chari-Ali sits down with his pair of drums behind the auto and taxi stands, not the best of places as he is covered by the line-up of vehicles and cannot be seen but only heard from the road amidst the cacophony of noise at that busy intersection.
When asked him why does he continue to beg, he said that it was to feed his family, though one of his siblings, an elder brother now works as a mason.
The Government, he said, had not given him anything although he has heard that there are many schemes for the disabled.
“Please see if I get something,” he told this correspondent.
Social Welfare officer Sangita Borthakur said that she was not aware of his existence, “maybe because I have not worked here for long.”
“Recently, almost 3000 disabled persons in the district were given a one-time benefit of Rs 5000 but I do not know whether he got it or not. The persons working at the block level should have sent his name. Panichokuwa is not that far away,” said Borthakur. Scrolling down the list of names, she confirmed that Bhaiti’s name was not among the beneficiaries.
“I will look into the matter and see what can be done. From what I have heard and read in newspapers, though there is no directive from the State Government or the Centre as yet, all disabled people will be given Rs 1000 per month. I hope, he is not denied this if it is in the pipeline,” she further said.
This correspondent had met Bhaiti Dutta in October 2010, then he was 15 years old, a minor, being exploited by his parents so that the home fires could burn.
He was brought regularly to beg by his father, Biren Dutta, who used to sit idle the whole day downing a few pegs of country liquor in a nearby lane and taking him back in the evening to live off his pickings.
The then vice principal of Jorhat Blind School, Debojit Kumar Baruah had said that this was an instance of parental exploitation as Biren Dutta had made high commutation expenses for not bringing his son to school but had refused to admit his son to the hostel though the authorities had told him that Bhaiti could study and reside there free of cost.
“The father had withdrawn his son after about two months of school when an NGO had forced him to get Bhaiti admitted in 2010 and that was the end of his education,” the vice principal had said.
Monika Borah, a passerby, said that it was symbolic that he had shifted to the front of the court, maybe he is seeking justice.
“For such a long time, justice has been denied to him. May God hear his drum beats, ” she said.
Borthakur too wondered why nothing had been done till now though the Juvenile Justice Act had been in place since 1986.
Meanwhile, Bhaiti has upgraded himself. He now also sings. He has also bought a mobile phone, from which he says he has picked up the songs and tunes. He, however, does not know his own mobile number.