At Sharayu Precision, Subhash Chuttar employs over 36 mentally and physically challenged men and women who work at jobs ranging from riveting, drilling and greasing to polishing and packing. Chuttar has just won the Helen Keller Award instituted by the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People
When Subhash Chuttar, managing partner at Sharayu Precision in Pune, looks for new workers to handle the assembly, chipping and cutting on the shop floor, the first place he visits is a school for the mentally challenged. Small wonder then that he has been honoured in 2003 with the Helen Keller Award instituted by the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People.
Being an orphan is difficult in itself. But Rajendra Jadhav's woes did not end here. Before he could finish his education, his elder brother asked him to find himself a job and a place to stay. Rajendra would have managed had it not been for the fact that he was born mentally challenged.
Then he found his guardian angel in the form of Subhash Chuttar, founder and managing partner at the Pune-based Sharayu Precision, a company that manufactures auto spare parts for companies like Bajaj Tempo and Tata Motors. Absorbed as an employee, Rajendra was given basic training in assembly functions, a repetitive process that requires a lot of concentration. Today, he has moved on to independent delivery of finished products. "I want to learn new things. I have got my own house and I can ride a cycle," he says proudly.
Sharayu Precision employs over 35 mentally or physically challenged workers like Rajendra. There's Amin Shaikh who uses a machine to clear boring holes in accessories like truck member supports. Amin is deaf and dumb, but he is able to pick up any new technology with ease thanks to his supervisor Robert Joseph who understands him well. Likewise Rahul Pai, who is mentally challenged, is an expert in painting and drilling functions. "He not only supports his parents and wife but already has a bank balance of two lakh rupees," says administrator in-charge Ujjwala Joshi who is both mother and sister to this group of "special workers with unflagging determination to fight the odds and stand on their own feet".
For Subhash Chuttar, this is more than a social commitment to providing employment opportunities to the disabled. His son Ajay, now 22, is mentally challenged and has been trained to handle the company's excise documentation. "The normal assumption everyone makes is that mentally or physically disabled people are incapable of any work. They are often seen as a burden on society. The truth is that they can be more productive than normal healthy people because their level of concentration is always very high and their minds are never cluttered with distractions," says Chuttar. Without even a college degree, Chuttar began work as a helper before graduating to being foreman and setting up his own business in 1975. His company's gross turnover for the year 2002-03 was over Rs 115 lakh.
Sharayu Precision's first mentally disabled employee was Suryakant Yadav who was trained to handle assembly jobs. "It was after watching him work with greater efficiency than the other employees that I found the courage to employ more such people. Now, 25% of our workforce comprises the disabled and that includes six women," says Chuttar. But it's not easy providing basic training. As Ramdas Jadhav, operator-cum-supervisor, explains: "A lot of patience is initially required to get them to perfect the process. Later, they can be relied upon to carry out operations like riveting, drilling, greasing, polishing and packing without any faults or wastage. At the same time, it is equally important for us to understand their personal needs and frustrations."
An example of how a petty matter can spark off personal and professional withdrawal is the case of Yashwant Gorse who suddenly stopped coming to work one day. The reason? Ujjwala had paid his salary in denominations of Rs 500. "When he saw a packet of notes that was slimmer than what he had received in earlier months, he thought that he had been paid less. One of our supervisors had to then go to his house to convince him that the amount was the same as usual," she says. Then there's Shekhar Shirke who locked himself in his room one day and refused to go to work till he had been given a Walkman. "He loves Hindi music," Ujjwala explains.
Chuttar's triumph over the odds lies in the fact that he looks upon every employee as a family member. Employees visit each other's homes for birthdays, marriages, housewarming ceremonies, festivals, etc. And they all look forward to the annual picnic, especially women workers Varsha Salunke, Sunita Gujar and Archana Khatki whose lives have been tales of suffering either because of their disabled status or traumatic experiences after marriage.
"All the disabled workers are permanent employees and are paid even during times of recession or a reduction in orders. A portion of every individual's salary is saved by the company to enable them to make bigger investments later," says Chuttar who now plans to start a training centre to prepare disabled youth for employment in other companies.
On the shop floor of Sharayu Precision, impossible is a word that does not curry favour. "They may be slightly different from us. But that does not mean their lives should be wasted," says Chuttar.
Contact: Sharayu Precision
Tel: 020 - 27475298/99
(InfoChange News & Features, February 2004)