Turning a blind eye to disabled jobseekers

By Nilanjana Sengupta/TNN

TOI, Bombay, 26/01/2006

Mumbai: At an interview for five reserved clerical posts for the partiallysighted conducted by the charity commissioner on January 10, Pankaj Chaudhary was asked if he could read a newspaper. Then, in the presence of an observer from the National Association of the Blind (NAB) and two social welfare officers, he was asked if he could see how many fingers the interviewer, sitting about 10 feet away, was holding up. Finally, the 27-yearold, who suffers from almost 85 percent blindness, but does not need support while walking—not even a cane—was told that he was not among the selected candidates.

Chaudhary’s higher second class graduation scores, his outstanding performance at the written exam held earlier that day, were ignored. His only drawback was that he was not ‘a blind person who could read and write’. “This is nothing. Sometimes, the government will advertise for a post under the disabled category, which in fact is a vacancy for a driver,’’ says Datta Jadhav, general secretary of the National Federation of the Blind.

Arun Korkute, a totally blind social worker with a Masters in Social Work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, has faced over 200 interviews in the last decade. “The interviewers seem almost amused,’’ says 35-yr-old Korkute, who is resigned to a PhD in social studies on the blind at Mumbai University.

“How will you go home now?’’ seems to be an oft-asked question, laced with disbelief. “I feel like saying, I will go home the same way I came here,’’ says Korkute. Then there is another gem. “How do you eat? Are you able to bring your hand up to your mouth and put the food in?’’

During the medical exam for a clerical post in the BMC, one totally blind candidate was asked why he had not worn spectacles from childhood, because then wouldn’t he have had better vision?

Chaudhary now wants to move court. “Merit, and not whether I can read or write better than the next blind person, should be the criterion for selection,’’ says Chaudhary. His sentiment is supported by the NAB’s employment officers, who along with the Blind Men’s Association have despatched letters to the commissioner’s office seeking reconsideration of Chaudhary’s case. But there is no response as yet in writing. Chaudhary has identified his advocate and had his first sitting over what should be the facts in his petition. If he goes ahead with the case, he will be the latest in the line of a large number of disabled who prefer the judicial process to dharnas.

Though Indian courts do not separately categorise how many such petitions are actually there, Disability and Law, a compendium released by the Delhi-based National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) in 2005 mentions about 400 such cases, including PILs and individual petitions, most of which are employment related.

“Grievances include denied promotions, retrenchment after suffering a disabling accident on the job, rejection at the medical stage or not being allowed a scribe at a written interview,’’ says Javed Abidi, wheelchair user and executive director of NCPEDP. Major steps have been taken since 2000, when Abidi found that only two PILs and seven individual cases had been filed under the People with Disability Act, 1995. “We are disappointed with successive governments for neglecting the fields of access, education and employment,’’ says Abidi.

In 2004, the NAB and others filed a petition against the BMC asking it to identify and fill up the mandatory 3% of jobs for the handicapped—one percent each for visually and orthopaedically challenged and the remaining one percent for the hearing impaired—as per the PWD Act. “But after submitting in January 2005 that identified posts will be filled up by May, all they have done is advertise the jobs, collect applications and sit on them. No call letters have been issued so far,’’ says Pallavi Kadam, employment officer at NAB.

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