BHUBANESWAR: Sonalika Sahoo (22), a 22-year-old girl with orthopaedic disability, is pursuing her final year of graduation in Arts in the SCS College at Puri. Although she tried to get admission to a computer training course, offered by the Government for skill development at the ITI near Talabania, Sonalika could not enrol. Reason: Her parents cannot afford the cost of transportation to the ITI centre.
Similar is the case with Sonalika's junior S Bani Reddy, also physically handicapped and pursuing Plus Three second year Arts in the same college. She wanted to undergo computer training at the Talabania ITI as the course guarantees employment, but transportation and accessibility posed a problem.
Sonalika and Bani are not the only ones facing problems in skilling themselves. Odisha is home to over five lakh women with disabilities but only around 10 per cent of them are skilled and employed. Even as both the State and Central Governments are implementing various schemes to train and employ them in different trades under the 'Skill India' initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the schemes have not benefited many women with disabilities. Currently, majority of the women undergoing vocational training are orthopaedically challenged while those with intellectual and multiple disabilities are left out.
According to the 2011 Census, 12,44,402 people with disabilities in the State include 5,69,627 women in the employable age of 15 to 59 years with the highest number of 47,729 women with disabilities residing in Ganjam. For this population of 5.6 lakh women, the Central and State Governments have been offering skill development and vocational training programmes through industrial training institutes (ITIs), community colleges and Vocational Rehabilitation Centres (VRCs) under various schemes including the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana. Vocational training is also offered by Odisha Association for the Blind (OAB), Odisha Association for the Deal (OAD) and All Odisha Orthopaedically Handicapped Welfare Association (AOOHWA).
The governments have roped in different line departments and NGOs for the purpose. After a decade long demand, the State Government this year opened a special ITI for disabled persons at Barang offering one year computer training course and a special hostel for differently-abled working women in Bhubaneswar. Apparently, all these training centres have 30 per cent reservation for women candidates.
Activists, however, feel the vocational training programmes are not reaching many women due to lack of access, disability certificates, transportation facilities and security concerns of family members. In many rural areas, women with disabilities have low levels of literacy, besides being disconnected from skill training and employment opportunities.
Sruti Mohapatra, disability rights activist, said many trades offered to the women are outdated and low on employability. Vocational trades like agarbati, chalk and candle making and phenyl preparation provide livelihood to women but the income is very less. "Currently, only trades like computer training, beautician training and tailoring are helping the women earn a decent livelihood, but these trades require a certain level of literacy. For the illiterate, Government should introduce new trades after exploring the market requirement. Women can be trained as assistants to beauticians, for back-end jobs in the retail sector or as assistants to chefs in hotels. The problem with vocational training for women with disabilities in Odisha is that the Government devises trades and imposes them on the beneficiaries without studying whether those are actually helping the women or not in the long run," she said.
Sanyas Behera, former secretary of Odisha Association for Blind (OAB), agrees. He said certain trades like chair caning, chalk, candy and agarbati making besides home management are obsolete. None of the skill development programmes are tailored for blind girls and no special attention is being provided to them under any of the vocational training or skill development schemes that are currently in operation. There is also no curriculum or syllabus for these training programmes as well, Behera added.
While 30 women with disabilities are currently undergoing training at the special ITI, there is not a single differently-abled working woman who is availing the benefit of the hostel in Bhubaneswar, he said. Lack of security of women with disabilities at the training centres is also a reason why families are not interested in sending the women to training centres. Two years back, a blind girl was raped by a trainer in the vocational training centre of Odisha Association for the blind. Apparently, although installation of CCTVs in training centres is mandatory, none of the facilities here have made the provision.
Principal Secretary of Social Security and Empowerment of Persons with Disability (SSEPD), Niten Chandra, however, refuted the claims and said the State Government is doing its part in improving the skills of women with disabilities. "There are many tribal women in districts like Keonjhar and Nabarangpur who have benefitted from the programmes," he said, adding that Rs 10,000 is being provided to handicapped women who form an SHG to take up any economic activity under Mission Kshyamata.