Mohammed Haneef Malik, a resident of Pattan in Kashmir, has become a new hope for people with disabilities living in Kashmir amid this lockdown.

Malik lost his eyesight in 2007. Since then he has strived to turn his disability into strength. Having worked as an electrician, he joined the Voluntary Medicare Society (VMS), an organisation that works for people with disabilities living in Kashmir. There he continued to repair electrical fittings and appliances in the office, setting an example for the rest of the staff.

Since this lockdown, he daily comes to his office located in Srinagar, and goes from there to different places on VMS work. With the lockdown forcing everyone inside their homes, Malik visits the homes of people with disabilities to help them.

He travels with an ambulance and driver. Asked about support from the security forces, he says “Whenever they stop us, we show them permission letter and lockdown pass. After that, they let us go.”

On his experience during this lockdown: “Disability sometimes leads to depression and the current lockdown is deteriorating their already loose mental state.” He thinks counselling is an important additional requirement for many people with disabilities during the pandemic.

Apart from his work for the Society, Malik personally reaches out to people with disabilities who need help. “I get a monthly salary of 12,000 of which I save 25% every month, in case someone needs it.” Together with VMS he recently helped a dispossessed person get a cornea transplant, an operation that costs around 2.5 lakh rupees.

“Recently, a [married couple with disabilities] was in requirement of some financial assistance. I helped them in every possible way I could. I also counseled them to bring back their mental stability,” he says. “VMS provides food kits to such people, and I try to give them some money from my pocket, to boost their morale.”

A messiah of sorts for many people over the last few years, Mohammed Haneef Malik is now a known face in the locality. “People contact me when they come across a [person with disability] in need.” He says society has helped him in the cause he is working for.

When the lockdown marred Ramzan festivities, Haneef tried to spread smiles on the faces of many people with disabilities. “Even Islam asks every human being to donate generously,” he says.

A few days ago he helped a married couple with disabilities from Hajin Sonawari village. Dispossession had forced them to live with their children under a tin shed. “During summers the tin shed gets very hot, and it is impossible to stay under it during the day.” With the help of VMS they were able to build a small house, to which too Haneef contributed from his pocket.

Affected with partial visual impairment since birth, he lost his eyesight completely in 2007. During this lockdown, he says, he has been teaching people with disabilities “to maintain themselves using the available technology.” And encouraging people with visual impairments “not to stop learning and writing using Braille script.”

Malik wants to open a training institute to teach electrical work to people with visual impairment, but a paucity of funds has forced him to withdraw hands. “For this kind of project, one needs a huge investment. I have neither the land nor the types of equipment to start this.”

“My sole objective is to help these people fly, shedding their disabilities,” he concludes.