When the story of Kanchanamala Pande, the silver medal winner at the Berlin para-swimming championship in 2017, hit the headlines, there was wide furore, and rightly so, over the tribulations that that she was made to go through. The grant sanctioned by the Government of India for six participants failed to reach them on time and Kanchanmala was forced to beg and borrow on the streets of Berlin in order to be able to stay there and participate in the tournament. .
If such is the treatment accorded to a para-sportsperson representing the country in a global tournament, one can well imagine the plight of the differently-abled commoner in India. Employment opportunities in particular are extremely rare and difficult to come by for such a person, which is why a job fair scheduled for end-February in Chennai is a pioneering event.
The fair will bring together differently-abled job seekers and employers together and thus create a platform that makes it easy for these members of society to become economically independent and productive. The fair is being organised by We Are Your Voice, an initiative started by Kasim Basith, who apart from running his own testing centre and providing Emergency Volunteer Service, is also a founding-member at Arappor Iyakkam.
Citizen Matters spoke to Basith to find out more about his initiative.
Inception and evolution
“The thought of providing an arena for differently-abled members of society struck me when I was working in the CSR department of an IT firm, some four years ago. I was appointed to impart skill development training for around 48 hearing and speech impaired candidates. It was a great chance for me to know more about such people and understand them better. As our interaction grew, I reached a point where I started thinking how they would be placed after the training,” explains Basith.
After the training was over, Basith approached companies on OMR seeking opportunities for the people he had trained. Four of them were placed, but it did not end there. This cause was something that he continued to pursue and eventually, ‘We Are Your Voice’ came into existence.
After that, Basith, along with his volunteers and team members, began to organize a structured job fair for differently-abled candidates. “For the first two years, that is in 2015 and 2016, we were concentrating only on hearing- and speech-impaired people, but after that we opened it up for job-seekers with any kind of physical or social challenge or disability. Thus, in addition to visually challenged or physically challenged, candidates, we will also see the participation of transgender individuals in our upcoming job fair.”
In 2016, 18 companies registered with We Are Your Voice and 71 candidates got placed. In 2017, as the scope of the fair was widened to include people with any kind of disability, around 1500 – 2000 people registered for the fair online but more than 5000 people turned up on the field, some from as far away as Jammu and Kashmir. 848 candidates were shortlisted and employed in different companies in that fair.
Support from the government
As per the Persons with Disabilities Act, it is mandatory to employ 3% differently-abled candidates in any central or state government recruitment, while the Tamil Nadu government reserves 4% jobs for such members. However, there is no such mandate for private companies. Nevertheless, many private corporates register with We Are Your Voice for the job fair.
“The Head of the Department of Commissionerate for the Welfare of Differently Abled, V Arun Roy is very supportive and spreads word about the job fair to such people,” says Basith gratefully.
There is a general human tendency to feel pity for differently-abled people around us, whereas Basith’s experience through this initiative has demonstrated that it is totally uncalled for. Differently-abled members can be equally talented and can surpass the limits that people conventionally associate with them.
“We are reaching out to HR departments in many top corporate organisations, including Wipro, Accenture, etc. While service sector jobs are more suitable for them, we cannot underestimate the capabilities of the differently-abled candidates. Many of them are equally adept at scientific/technical jobs,” says Basith.
Often, after being placed in an IT company, candidates wish to volunteer with the initiative, out of a sense of gratitude.
“There was this girl named Uma Maheshwari who got selected in Accenture through the job fair. She found it difficult to work, as she would need a co-worker to take her to the restrooms, dining halls etc. She came back to us and requested an automatic wheel chair, which we arranged. During the recent volunteer meet for the next job fair, she was there, narrating her experiences and emphasising the point that disabled are not meant to be pitied. Uma stands as an example for persons with disability who wish to be independent,” he reminisces .
Flashy ads, pamphlets and posters of regular employment fairs or opportunities are something that can be spotted anywhere in the city, not to mention TV and pop-up ads on the Internet! But We Are Your Voice does not follow the conventional campaigning strategy.
“In the last three years, you would not have seen even a single advertisement in any newspaper and television. We do not function that way, primarily because we don’t have enough funds. But we do witness a large turnout every year and we made it possible just by sharing the information on Facebook and WhatsApp. While the official page of We Are Your Voice has not received many likes, the posts still do get shared. The 2016 job fair was a perfect example for this,” says Basith.
So what keeps him motivated, personally?
“Problems in society motivate me, not people. The more the problems are, the more I feel motivated to search for solutions. This year, I’m motivated to create 5000 job opportunities for them and rope-in 500 companies for recruitment – all free of cost,” he concludes.
[The job fair organized by We Are Your Voice is scheduled for February 25, 2018. Registration s can be made at https://weareyourvoice.org/web/site/]