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“Awareness that disabled persons are not handicapped, and can perform just as well as anyone else has to grow in society,” Mehul Choksi

The lack of sensitivity on the part of the private sector towards disability has been a matter of serious concern for the Indian disability sector. However, there are some good examples too. Atleast a few corporates have made a conscious attempt to become equal opportunity employers. Gitanjali Gems Ltd., a diamond and jewellery house is one such example. They were in the news recently for having set up a training centre in Hyderabad that would generate as many as 1000 jobs for people with disabilities. In an interview with Allister Mark Syiemlieh of D.N.I.S., Chairman and Managing Director, Gitanjali Gems Ltd., Mehul Choksi, talks about the newly inaugurated training centre, inclusive employment and much more

D.N.I.S.: Congratulations on Gitanjali Gems inauguration of Saksham Training Centre in Hyderabad. Can you tell us what sparked this special employment drive?

Mehul Choksi: It has been a long cherished dream of the company to contribute to society through organized C.S.R. activity in addition to the support we have been giving to other organizations working for social causes.

We had realized that gems and jewellery is one of the industries where there is a huge potential of employment for people with disabilities due to the specific nature of the processes. Therefore, we have undertaken this project to empower them and facilitate their integration within society.

D.N.I.S.: Gitanjali Gems Ltd. recently won an award for this initiative. How does it feel to be recognized as an inclusive opportunity employer?

Mehul Choksi: We are proud that our achievements in this field have been recognized, but more than that it is the response we receive from those whom we have helped that has motivated us to further increase the employment of disabled people in Hyderabad and also replicate this model within our companys other units.

We hope that the government recognition as a result of the award will also encourage others from the industry to come forward and achieve the goal of employing at least 5% of their total workforce from among people with disabilities.

Disabled employees at the Saksham Training Centre
Disabled employees at the Saksham Training Centre

D.N.I.S.: The idea of inclusive employment is starting to catch up, but there are still pockets in the corporate world that feel disabled people do not have the capacity to perform. What do you feel about this?

Mehul Choksi: Awareness that disabled persons are not handicapped, and can perform just as well as anyone else has to grow in society. It is a long process and we hope that the initiatives and examples of some will be a guiding light for others.

D.N.I.S.: What changes would you like to see in the private sector vis--vis disability?

Mehul Choksi: It is my hope that more and more units within the private sector will step forward to aid the integration of disabled persons with larger society. While providing them with employment is important, it is also important to develop a barrier free infrastructure and appropriate systems to ensure that their disabilities are not an obstacle to their performance.

D.N.I.S.: What support would you like the private sector to receive from the government to promote employment of people with disabilities?

Mehul Choksi: Government can provide necessary incentives to units that promote employment of disabled people. While awards are one aspect of this, there are other steps that can also be taken like subsidizing training, getting the government training institutes to provide specialized courses, massive awareness campaigns and so on.