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How a crafts fair encouraged people with disabilities

An initiative in Delhi to give people with disabilities a chance to display their skills and earn their livelihood or gain employment met with significant success.

Sitting at a loom and displaying his weaving skills at the Divya Kala Mela at India Gate in Delhi is Praveen, a young man who is slow on the uptake and cannot speak clearly either. Looking at his tall, hefty figure, it is not difficult to imagine him as a weightlifter. Well, actually, he is not only a weightlifter but a silver medallist in the sport. He won the medal at the Special Olympics held in Dubai in 2019. But Praveen cannot live the rest of his life on the award money he received at the Games, so he is being trained as a weaver by Tender Heart NGO at Village Bhatola on the outskirts of Faridabad, Haryana.

The NGO works on special needs education in rural areas. The trainer at the NGO who accompanied Praveen to the fair says the organisation caters to 20 students of weaving at a time.

Praveen works on a loom at the NGO at present, but after he is fully trained, he may buy a loom of his own and start his own weaving centre. The products displayed at his stall include handbags, tablemats, napkins and tapestries of various sizes and colours. The money he earns at the fair will be deposited in Praveen’s account.

The fair was organised from December 2 to 7 for persons with disabilities who were provided stalls free of charge. Over 200 such craftspersons, artistes and entrepreneurs from 22 states and union territories displayed their work at the fair. According to officials, products worth Rs 80 lakh were sold during the Divya Kala Mela.

Praveen working at the loom.

Musical notes call to visitors from another stall at the fair. They come from the colourful bells and wind chimes set up by Shakur who hails from Kachchh (Kutch) in Gujarat. The walls of his stall are hung with various objects, including key rings, all of which have tiny bells attached. He also displays musical instruments of various sizes that he has made. Shakur, who has an orthopaedic disability, says with a smile that he has earned a handsome amount at the fair.

Small idols of a number of gods are displayed at another stalls put up by Birju Prajapati, from Tatnagar, Baghpat, in Meerut. He had a severe attack of polio when he was just one year old, and now is confined to a wheelchair. Prajapati makes art work using marble, fibre and resins.

Ganesh Anuwate’s family has been making leather products for generations. He learnt the art of making leather belts from his relatives. Hailing from Maharashtra, he has an orthopaedic handicap. Ganesh says he got a loan of Rs 3 lakh at concessional rates of interest to start his own business. The fair gave him the opportunity to not only display his skills but earn a handsome amount. “I was able to earn as much as Rs 15000 to Rs 20000 per day,” he says.

Physically challenged Mohammed Rafi’s stall stands out because it’s stocked with a range of artificial flowers in shades of red, yellow, and orange. He has participated in fairs organised at different places. “I learned the art of making artificial flowers from an expert in West Bengal,” says Rafi.

Iyappan from Puducherry offers a variety of artificial jewellery to choose from as well as handicrafts, leather goods and candles. He is able to ply his craft thanks to a loan from National Handicraft Finance Corporation at a concessional rate. A contact programme with representatives of various companies was also organised as part of the fair, to enable the differently able persons to seek employment.

Artificial Limbs Manufacturing Corporation of India (ALIMCO), a government of India undertaking, also had a stall at the fair, showcasing different aides and appliances for the physically challenged. CSR wings of some of the private players had also set up stalls highlighting their initiatives for empowering the disabled. Seventy-five craftsmen were given seed grants worth Rs 16 lakh for self-employment by IDEA SAKSHAM (SAKSHAM), a national-level charitable organisation. An online sale portal was also launched at the fair to enable persons with disabilities to sell their products in India and abroad. In another significant achievement, a dozen challenged persons were given employment by various companies.

Each of the 200 divyangs (persons with disabilities) who participated in the fair were also given Rs 5000 as life insurance. Awards for excellent performance in different fields were presented. Mohammad Naseem was recognised for the maximum sale worth Rs 260000, while Rajan Gawade won the prize for best stall. Himanshi Anand got the award for Kalamkari and Art and Kalashri was recognised as the best in the women’s category.

The stalls were made available free of charge and the participants were provided allowances for transport and other needs, as well as free meals. The credit for the success of the fair also goes to a large number of NGOs that were involved in the training of the disabled in various crafts and helping them to participate in the event. Most participants said initiatives like these fairs not only give them an opportunity to display and sell their creations but to gain knowledge from such exposure. Buoyed by the success of the fair, it was decided to organise similar events in 10 more cities.

December 2022