He’s visually impaired, but runs a flourishing spice factory

By Vidhu Aggarwal, IANS,

Ghaziabad : Baldev Gulati is visually impaired but that has not come in the way of his running a flourishing spice factory here – and training differently-abled people to help them get jobs.

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He started the factory last March in the Navprerna neighbourhood in this suburb of the national capital and has so far trained 50 differently-abled people and facilitated jobs for them. Gulati currently employs 15 workers at his factory, the number depending on his sales and the placement requirements of different industries.

“We hire disabled people and teach them how to work as they have never done so previously but have, instead, expected a helping hand from others. We train them and help to get them placed in other organisations,” Gulati told IANS.

“Essentially, I’m imbibing in them the concept of work culture and discipline. Besides, they also learn the art of packing. All of this comes in handy when they get regular jobs,” he added.

The spices, under the brand name of NP Agmark, are supplied to retailers, households in Ghaziabad and even institutions like Delhi’s India Habitat Centre and Hotel Broadway.

In 2001, when Gulati began doing the rounds of companies with his walking stick in an attempt to get a job, he could not get past the security guards, who feared he would plead for charity. Thereafter, he took along his wife, who can see normally. However, he could not land a job even after six months of effort. He then approached the Noida branch of the Small and Medium Enterprises Association.

On its advice, he started a unit for manufacturing floating candles, employed disabled people from adjacent villages and gave them on-job training for 15 days at a time.

“I assessed them to find out if they could report on time and work productively for eight hours a day. Finally, I would find them employment in other industries in Ghaziabad,” Gulati explained to IANS.

He, however, realised that the demand for candles was seasonal and that he could employ people for only four or five months in a year. Consequently, he studied some 250 businesses and then homed in on the spice factory. In this way, he believed he would be able to best reach out to society and change its perceptions of disabled people.

“After I started supplying my spices to retailers, their perception (that disabled people can’t work properly or can’t deliver on time) changed. Now, they treat me with respect and negotiate with me as an equal.

“In addition, when I deliver to housewives and caterers, their opinion towards me and others like me also changes. As a result, societal attitudes change and the disabled can become a part of the mainstream,” Gulati maintained.

His spices are competitively priced. For instance, a 100-gram packet of turmeric or coriander power costs Rs.10. A similar sized packet of red chilly flakes costs Rs.15.

Gulati politely declined to state his annual turnover, beyond saying it was “profitable”. This is after he shares a part of his proceeds with his workers proportionate to the effort they have put in.

Life hasn’t always been so comfortable for Gulati. In fact, it has been pretty harsh, considering that he and his four sisters too are visually impaired.

One day his mother came across an advertisement for a government school in the President’s Estate here that took in visually handicapped students and enrolled her children there.

After that, Gulati obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science from Delhi University’s Hindu College and a master’s in the same subject, as also a master’s in social work and a diploma in rehabilitation counselling.

He thereafter worked with various NGOs in cities as well as rural areas.

Gulati feels that though disabled get opportunities from various organisations, including the Indian Habitat Centre, Hotel Broadway and some caterers, there is need for greater opportunities to enable them prove themselves on a higher level.

“Retail chains such as Reliance Fresh and Big Apple should give us bigger opportunities for work. They need to have faith in us that we can work properly and can deliver assignments on time,” Gulati maintained.

He thinks they are deprived of such opportunities because of a mental block that the disabled can’t work as normal people.

“I want to prove that if given a chance, the disabled can work equally well,” he contended.

According to Gulati, the availability of greater opportunities would benefit not only the disabled but also the corporate world.

“If corporates provide us with adequate opportunities, their public image would also rise many times as people would laud their sensitivity,” he added.

(Vidhu Aggarwal can be contacted at [email protected] )