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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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Apart from begging or doing nothing at all, the economic activities of blind persons in Bengal followed the same patterns

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From the above objectives, it would be clear that the first concern of rehabilitation services is to make the blind as independent as possible in their own environment and according to their own ability.

The first planned rehabilitational effort started in 1964 with the establishment of the light engineering training programme for the blind (at present the nomenclature has been changed to "Technical Training for the Blind") at the Blind Boys' Academy, Narendrapur.

Adult blind with minimum communication skills are trained in trades like the operation of lathes and other machines in a workshop. The course is for nine months. After completion of the training, the trainees are given certificates. The Rehabilitation Counsellor (at present the Rehabilitation Officer) keeps contact with the industrial houses and other prospective employers. Through constant persuasion and propaganda, the Counsellor is sometimes successful in securing jobs.

The Vocational Rehabilitation Centre of the Government of India, the West Bengal branch established in December 1975, also employs the same methods. But in their case, because they are concerned with the training of other handicapped persons also, the share of rehabilitation of the blind by that centre is very low.

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secured from big houses and the blind workers are given wages out of the earnings« In the Blind Boys" Academy, the trained persons are given jobs in this workshop before being placed in a regular job«, So, the sub-contract workshop here is regarded as a stop-gap arrangement.

Such efforts existed before in one form or another in West Bengal.

In 1954-, the Lighthouse for the Blind tried to introduce a sub-contract system in card box-making with two workers, but the plan failed due to lack of response from the business houses. Financial considerations also prevented the Institution from employing rehabilitation workers at that time* In Kalimpong, the school could secure some sub-contracts from the local market in the form of basket-making, coir-matting, chair-caning, etc» But all 'these attempts ' proved futile.

In the seventies, many sub-contract workshops of different types

were established in West Bengal.:

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There is a special employment exchange in West Bengal which is responsible for finding jobs for all kinds of handicapped people» In the field of rehabilitation of the blind, its contribution till now has been very modesto

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amounts as remuneration. So naturally they are not popular among the blind;

they accept such occupations because there is no alternative but to accept them in the present circumstances«, The success of such ventures is very difficult to measure as the amount of earnings, security of job and everchanging nature of sub-contracts secured by different workshops differ widely.

The financial assistance provided by the Banks is sometimes not adequate (sometimes it is just a symbol of assistance by the Bankl), sometimes the poor client consumes it before investment. As it is a long, drawn-out process, the time-gap between investment and earning is large the time has not yet come to pronounce any judgment on the success or otherwise of this newly-introduced field of rehabilitation.

One could also mention the role of the cooperative societies in the rehabilitation for the blind. The only industrial cooperative formed by the blind in West Bengal is in the doldrums at present. It is difficult to say whether the leadership or mistrust among the members or the plan itself is responsible for such a condition. But when we consider the erratic nature of sub-contract by private agency or cut-throat competition in selfemployment areas, the cooperatives by the blind themselves seem to be a better means of rehabilitation.

2.4 Difficulties encountered The history of organised and planned efforts of rehabilitation of the blind in West Bengal is about two decades old. Previously, earning a living by a blind man was considered to be dependent on fate, chance or talent. The outlook on the part of the society has changed a'little, and still undergoing the process of transformation.

The difficulties encountered can be classified as follows:

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(1) Job opportunity At the time of independence, West Bengal, even after partition, was one of the three leading industrialised states in India. After thirty five years, the State has come down to the seventh position. The political and social turmoil due to the influx of millions of uprooted people, flight of capital from the State, economic stagnation, labour unrest, and various other factors were responsible for making the economic atmosphere sick and moribund» As the labour force increased in size, the employment market contracted over the years„ This condition affected all the areas of employment - right from the industrial sector down to petty rural business.

The placement service in West Bengal started with an eye to the big industrial houses, because this was-an area where large-scale employment was possible о But there the job opportunities became so restricted that even a small number of blind job-seekers created tremendous competition problemsv Often one has to encounter such questions as: "When able-bodied, normal persons are not getting anything, how can a disabled man expect to get an employment?" The sub-contract workshops were expected to be an answer to such questions. But here also, due to the reasons stated above, it became very difficult to secure sub-contracts from the business houses. The competition is also very keen.





In the areas of self-employment, as in the traditional crafts, farming, agencies business, vending, hawking, music coaching, etc., the market is full of sellers - a blind man cannot just depend on the buyers' sympathy and compassion«. Even a talented blind musician finds it difficult to get private tuitions on remunerative terms. The difficulties are even more acute in the cases of blind women.

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experience of many rehabilitation workers to be turned out of the office of the prospective employer because that "pillar of the society" has never heard such a ridiculous proposal as making the blind financially independent!

(3) Labour politics In West Bengal, the trade unions are very organized and forces to reckon with. In many public and private sector industries, the unions control appointments to the vacant and newly-created posts. Generally the unions are helpful to rehabilitation of the blind and to the handicapped workers о But in some cases where there is more than one union, the unions in their competition to get their own men appointed object to the appointment of the handicapped persons from outside. The political parties, to which the unions are affiliated, in their zeal to control the labour movement sometimes get involved in such unfortunate controversy. The rehabilitation of the blind being an apolitical concept concerning a widely-scattered minority group in the community, the parties are not really interested in this work because of its low vote-catching value.

(4) Lack of job-related training facilities The present system of technical training that is followed in West Bengal is to train the blind clients in certain trades using some powerdriven machines, which give them limited experience in handling the jobs«, Though the curriculum is structured in a more pragmatic than scientific way, yet it gives the trainees some amount of manual dexterity and a sense of workshop discipline. But when a trainee is actually placed in a factory, it is generally found that the nature of the job has no relation with his training.

(5) Lack of coordination among the agencies As there is no Apex body to plan, organise and oversee the rehabilitation of the blind in the State, different organisations frequently hamper each other's work. Sometimes, all the agencies knock at the same door for the same job for the same blind client. When he gets the job, all of them demand credit for his placement, thereby inflating the statistics in this State. It creates a clash of interest and unhealthy competition amongst the organisations.

- 36 Moreover, without an all-comprehensive plan, different areas of economic activities cannot be explored, modified and improved» At present, economic placement has almost become synonymous with employment in open industries» Other avenues are neglected due to the absence of concerted and coordinated efforts.

(6) Lack of environmental facilities The problem of rehabilitation of the blind does not end with the placement; in some cases, it begins. The blind persons are scattered all over West Bengal, generally in the rural areas, and the industries and the working places are in the urban areas. The blind worker has to come over either to the neighbourhood of the working place or to commute daily from his home by public transport, if the distance is not too great. As both the housing and transport problems are very acute in West Bengal, the blind workers find it difficult to continue in the job for a long time.

In the sub-contract or sheltered workshops, due to the large concentration of blind persons in the same place, they can be expected to live together in a Mess or a Working Men 9 s Hostel nearby if the rent is reasonable.

But in the cases of industries, even hostels would not solve the problems, as the factories are located at different places and at a great distancee The clients have to depend on public transport which is highly uncertain and expensive»

The environmental conditions in the working place are also not suitable for the blind» Sanitation, canteens and recreation rooms are not made to suit the special needs of the blind workers.

(7) The clients' response and behaviour This should be regarded not as the last, but as the first difficulty encountered by the rehabilitation workers. The blind persons who require immediate placement generally come from the poorest of poor families* By their impatience, they sometimes jeopardise the rehabilitation works. They move from one agency to another, change training programmes before finishing one, or even take recourse to abuse and vilification of the counsellor, which antagonises the agency working for them«. Sometimes, the worker leaves the job for a better one without informing his agency.

Thus the chance of putting another blind man in his previous job is lost.

- 37 In many cases, the inadequacy of social responses on the part of the blind client is responsible for his poor adjustment with his environment. Such problems are not insurmountable, with proper training and counselling, the behavioural defects can be rectified.

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3.1 Objectives The objective of this Chapter is to discuss the background information on the respondents because this may lead us to form a scientific view in connection with their education and employment. Findings of the main study may have some direct or indirect link with all these or some of these factors, hence these need to be highlighted, 3.2 Regional distribution Among the respondents of the study, 52% were from rural areas and the. rest, 48%, were from the urban areas. Though the number of blind persons in rural areas is many times more than the number of urban blind,

difference in percentage among the rural and urban respondents is very insignificant principally because of the following reasons:

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3.3 Age, sex? caste and marital status So far as the age of the respondents is concerned, a solid majority of them (73„8%) belonged to the age group 20 to 34 years, whereas 14„2% belonged to the age group 35 to 44 years» Very few of them were above 44 years of age«, Teenagers formed nearly 9% of the group of people surveyed,, It indicates that education and training facilities have been expanded during the recent years„ In the earlier period there were less educational institutions, and due to lack of communication and awareness, the number of students enrolled was very low. Another reason for the small number of respondents in higher ages may be that the institutions do not maintain old records properly»

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The obvious issue that will cone from this picture is that women in general could avail themselves of the facility much less compared to the blind male. Among the rural women, percentages are even less. All these indicate one thing very clearly, that sincere efforts have not been made to cater for education and training for the blind female. This is, of course, nothing new in the context of the social system of West Bengal.

Here, a patriarchal social system rules and the women get minimum facilities in all spheres of life. Knowingly or unknowingly they are mostly ignored by the family members and the society as a whole. Possibly the same thing has happened in the case of blind women, etc.

- 40 While distributing the participants on the basis of caste, one will find that the upper caste people enjoyed the facilities most. Whereas 84.2% of the respondents were from upper caste families, only 15.8% came from the scheduled caste and scheduled tribe families„ As regards the marital status of the respondents, the number of

single (unmarried) respondents is just double the number of married respondents „ It may be due to the fact that:

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Among the married respondents, 26 e 7% have blind spouses.

Parents8 education and income 3.4 While studying the educational background of the parents it has been remarked that 24.3% of the parents had no education. If we divide them by father and mother, it will be found that 58.4% of mothers and 25„7% of fathers were without education„ This picture of the parents' education is not abnormal because the literacy rate of the state is 50.59% in the case of males, 30„33% in the case of females, and 40 o 88% in general.

Table 3 0 3 e Education of parents

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