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«SIMM ® EDUCATION A N D E M P L O Y M E N T OF THE BLIND - THE CASE OF WEST BENGAL Bikas C. Sanyal, P. K. Giri, M. Roychowdhury, A. K. Pati,. ...»

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Finally, the social status is directly dependent upon the educational and occupational career and the societal attitude towards the blind, and indirectly dependent upon the individual, family and community characteristics. The items for social status are: attitudes of the family, neighbours, friends and relatives before and after education, employment and marriage.

The above conceptual framework is demonstrated in Diagram 1.

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One of the most unresearched groups amongst the blind is that of blind beggars. The generosity that supports India's beggars is deeply rooted in religious tradition. In the past, alms were given only to religious men who lived off community goodwill? to give them food,, shelter and money was considered an honour. Traditionally, beggars used to gather at the temples and other holy places to receive the offerings of the pilgrims. Some Hindu customs, such as the ceremony of the sacred thread of the Brahmins, obliges, and in some cases even now, adolescents to beg for three days as a symbol of humility. Hindu rituals,such as the annual "Shradha" in honour of the ancestors, require that food be given to Brahmins.

Although the nature of giving has changed over the years, the notion that the giver will be rewarded has not. The growing affluence of some urban areas and this belief that the giver will be spiritually rewarded sustains an increasing beggar population, even though begging has been declared illegal in India. In 1982 even, a national federation of beggars was set up to promote the interest of the beggars. In the words of the president of that federation: "This is a profession like any other and as old as any other".(1) In a social set-up like this, many of the blind take up begging as a profession, and find it lucrative, in spite of the anti-begging laws and national attempts to change traditional attitudes. In order to try to identify how blind beggars could be motivated to undertake training for legal employment, the present study undertook the challenging task of interviewing some blind beggars.

5.2 Data needs

A conceptual framework like the one described above requires considerable data and information on the attitudes of the society towards the blind, on the labour market for the blind, and the educational facilities available to them. As well as information on the individual, family and community characteristics, and the behaviour, perceptions and attitudes of (1) International Herald Tribune, Paris, 27 April 1983.

- 17 the blind within the family, the community, the education system and the employment market. Information on the macro-characteristics such as the educational and societal set-up may be available from published documents, but statistics on the micro-characteristics can be obtained only through surveys and interviews specially organized for the information needed.

A questionnaire was designed to collect information on the micro-characteristics (individual, family and community variables) of the blind, their expectations and attitudes, educational career, occupational career and social status. Also included in the questionnaire were items to obtain information on the perceptions of the blind concerning the operation of the labour market in respect of recruitment practices, information mechanism, wage policy and promotion methods (see Appendix 3).

To analyse the attitudes of the employers towards the blind, and especially their perceptions on the performance of blind workers on the job, the need for further training, the problems confronting a blind employee and the employers on the job, and measures to reduce such problems, a separate questionnaire was administered amongst selected employers having blind workers (see Appendix ç. ) The objectives of the study and list of hypotheses given before were the basis for formulating the items of both questionnaires.

5.3 Collection of data

The questionnaire was administered to those blind persons who had been trained in different educational institutions during the period 1970-80; 535 addresses were available from the institutions.

It was possible to establish personal contact for 225 cases, which have been included in this study. These individuals were scattered throughout the State, and tracing them was an extremely difficult task. In some cases, to reach just one individual, the investigator had to travel for several days by train, boat and on foot. The investigators were given orientation sessions on the methods of interviewing to ensure accurate answers to the questions, and were also briefed on the objectives of the study. Despite a nearly 50% non-response rate, the sample has a reasonable

- 18 extent of representativity of the population in respect of the important characteristics. The largeness of the sample size allowed for statistical analysis based on normality assumption.

The blind beggars were also interviewed by the investigators using the same questionnaire but only for the questions directly relevant to them.

A list of the employers having blind workers was obtained from the Special Employment Exchange Office of the government. Initially, 25 employers were contacted, and 15 allowed personal interviews with those responsible for the personnel departments.

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Univariate analysis was undertaken to study the nature of the sample for different characteristics. Bivariate analysis was performed for testing the hypotheses on the degrees of association between two characteristics. Chi-square statistics were used for significance tests. Multivariate regression analysis was undertaken to study the influence of relevant explanatory variables on the dependent variables, namely the salary and waiting period to obtain a job. This allowed for controlling the influence of other explanatory variables while analysing that of a specific variable. In the regression analysis, categorical variables such as sex, region, employed/unemployed were located as dummy variables. The F-statistic(1) was used for significance tests.

Discriminant analysis was undertaken to identify the degree of influence of the different characteristics on such phenomena as employed, unemployed or self-employed. The standardized discriminant coefficients provided the degree of importance of the different characteristics. The Statistical Package for Social Sciences(l) was used for the analysis of the data on the trained blind.

The information on the employers was analysed manually because of the small size of the sample. The information on the blind beggars was also analysed in the same way.

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6. The presentation of the study Following the conceptual framework given before, the study starts with a descriptive analysis of the societal attitudes towards the blind in the State of West Bengal and the development of educational facilities and employment services for the blind. There follows a chapter dealing with the characteristics of the respondents in respect of their regional distribution, parents' education and income, sex, marital status, age, age at which blindness occurred in the case of the adventitious blind, the nature, extent and causes of blindness, and the type of treatment followed to cure blindness. Analysis of these aspects already provided information on the nature of the blind population and some planning implications, such as the role of parents' education on the causes of blindness and type of treatment received, and the distribution of educational facilities for the blind, etc.

This analysis was followed by an analysis of the educational background of the blind including the motivating factors for pursuit of training, adequacy of information on educational opportunities, etc. This also provided some implications for planning of education.

The next chapter deals with the rehabilitation of the trained blind, with pre-employment programmes and stop-gap jobs, methods of recruitment, selection criteria, the problem of unemployment, relevance of training for the needs of the job, etc.

This is followed by an analysis of the employment experience of the blind in respect of the working environment, relation between employment and pre-employment training and job satisfaction, factors promoting self-employment, and an analysis of the determinants of earnings.

In respect of the trained blind, the last task undertaken was an analysis of their social status and the role of education and employment in uplifting this status. The perceptions of the employers in respect of the rehabilitation of the blind constitutes the last analytical chapter.

The problem of untrained blind beggars was treated separately because of the special nature of the problem and the small size of the sample.

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Although the present study is based on the largest sample of trained blind persons so far undertaken of significant depth in India, this study suffers from the limitation of non-response from a considerable proportion of the trained blind population, and the small size of the employers' sample and that of the blind beggars. The parents of the blind should also have been the subject of investigation because they are the key persons in changing the living conditions of the blind.

However, resource limitations did not permit us to increase the response rate, the sample sizes, and the inclusion of the parents in the analysis.

Nevertheless, it is hoped that the results of this study could add to the knowledge-base on the planning of education for employment of the blind and on the blind community.

- 21 Chapter 2

EDUCATION AND EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE BLIND IN WEST BENGAL

2.1 Historical aspects of thé development of education for the blind, evolution in form and type The institutionalised services for the blind are an amalgam of Christian ideals of charity and the early bourgeois ideals of welfarism.

With the emergence of a capitalistic social system, the individual became the focal point - the single man and his family became the unit. More and more people were evicted from the land - the modern urbanization of life in the West began in the Eighteenth Century on a grand scale. As the ability to earn a living and to maintain one's family became the standard for weighing one's social worth, those who were handicapped in any way to do so came to be regarded as social misfits. In a society based on the theory of "Laissez-faire", keen competition and individual independence, these alienated handicapped persons became a social liability. So, out of a sense of responsibility towards these people, there arose the theory of social welfare and many homes and institutions sprang up in Europe to take care of the handicapped.

But in India, the idea of welfare never emerged as a historical necessity. The British colonised a feudal society with medieval ideals and outlook. The family tie and the clan dependency for everything in an Indian's life was very deep. On the other hand, the traditional religious beliefs made the Indians intensely individualistic in their attitude towards society. Moreover, the entire society (both Hindu and Muslim) was divided and subdivided into different castes, creeds, class, etc. With the advent of the British Raj, the process of progress stopped and the Indian society remained stagnant for 200 years.

In this colonial-feudal environment, the development of the ideals of welfare of the fellow being could not survive. On the contrary, selfaggrandisement by carrying the ruling powers8 favour increased. A handicapped man in the community could not arouse the sympathy of others to the extent of inspiring them to do something for him. The system of begging had social and religious sanction. So, a blind beggar was not regarded as a social outcast. Moreover, in the extended families, the existence

- 22 of one or two handicapped persons did not make any difference to the family or to the Patriarch. They were regarded as natural and inevitable parasites.

Such social ties began to wear out during the Second World War.

But before that, the individual's security in the family was never seriously threatened. So, a blind man, be he a beggar or a parasite, was never thrown out of the family, thereby necessitating the establishment of homes.

In the british India, there were some orphan homes, because the orphans had no family - but the handicapped persons were not so visibly deserted as the orphans, so they did not create any social problems.

In India, educational institutions for the blind did not gradually evolve out of an asylum concept as it happened in the West» There was no asylum or home for the handicapped in ancient or medieval India« Nor do we know of any such effort even after the advent of the British up to the beginning of the Twentieth Century. The extended (joint) family system and general acceptance of handicapping conditions as fate most probably account for the lack of effort for establishing homes for the blind, even by the English Christian missionaries»

The Nineteenth Century is sometimes described as the "Renaissance" period of Bengal. The period saw the emergence of the ideals of political democracyä, nationalism and social reforms. Even in this "so-called Renaissance", the consciousness about the handicapped persons was conspicuously absent in the writings of the Bengali Reformers« It seems really strange that though in the sixties and seventies of the Nineteenth Century great strides were being made in Europe, and in England in particular, the English missionaries and the colonial government did nothing mentionable in this area. Of course, there was a blind heroine in Bankimchandra's novel !S s Rajani ' before 1880, but we do not find any serious writing on the blind or blind education before 1885« In this year, we find a little article on s 'How blind children are taught to read and write in the West" by Upendra Kishore Roychaudhuri in a children8s magazine "Sakha".

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