RAJASTHAN: Adversity has a way of bringing out the best among the chosen few. When Covid- 19 led his employer to cut his salary by half, Shrikrishna Maharishi, an art teacher at Rajasthan School of Arts in Jaipur, refused to accept it.
Instead, he took a small loan, and along with his friend Roshan Verma, set up a casting unit to manufacture idols of gods and goddesses and objects d’art. It was a difficult choice in the challenging circumstances of Covid-19. Over a dozen of their employees — most of them are physically disabled — produce 400 statues a day. They sell their products in the wholesale market in Jaipur as well as online.
Gods they serve
Specially-abled Kalpana Devi worked at a tailoring outlet until Covid struck. “Most people suddenly stopped buying new stitched clothes and it was difficult for me to sustain my family. Then some people guided me to this unit. Here I learnt to make small idols of gods and goddesses from polyresin,” says Kalpana, as she moves about her work with her poliostricken leg, earning Rs 6,000 a month.
“I feel my childhood is coming back as I play with a wide range of colours,” she says. “My employers are like brothers for me. They treat us like a family and respect us.” Kalpana’s colleague Neelam too had lost her job at an electronics showroom. “My husband is also disabled like me, but he can drive a rickshaw. Together, we are able to run our family of six people,” says Neelam.
Maharishi and Verma have kept the prices affordable at their casting unit for polyresin products located at Jaipur’s Mansarovar colony. “I have done a range of art projects all through my career. I always felt I should make my own range of products. The lockdown gave me the opportunity along with my friend Roshan. We earn enough and have employed a few people,” says Maharishi. “We have made our products cost-effective against Chinese products we have been successful.
We wanted to end the monopoly of Chinese products. Our gift items have a wide range and they are in huge demand,” says Roshan. What gives them the most satisfaction is that they help in creating craftsmen out of the disabled by giving them on-job training. “I don’t turn back a disabled job seeker. As it is, even private sector jobs are difficult to come by. Secondly, our work does not require walking around too much and one can finish one’s job sitting in one place,” says Maharishi.
How they began
The employers assign their new appointees a colouring job. “Then we ask them to bring some of their friends for work. Now, we have 15 physically challenged people working in our unit,” says Maharishi. They have employees from as far as Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, UP and Maharashtra, some of them stricken below the waist. Shrikrishan is an inspiration to many as he has not only turned his life around but has also generated employment in the tough Covid pandemic time.
“When I quit my job and started working on my own, I did not know I would be able to earn enough. But now we have so much work that we are unable to meet the demands of our clients,” says Roshan. Among the people working in the unit, 40% are from outside Jaipur.
But having survived through the corona crisis, they say they have no plans to leave the Pink City and the special unit. Motivated by the market response, Shrikrishan and Roshan earn over Rs 1.5 lakh per month. They are looking to expand their unit. Both of them say their business model will have 50 per cent of jobs reserved for the disabled so that they can be a part of the mainstream society and live their life with dignity.