Four women with intellectual disabilities run this handicraft store in Kozhikode

Dr MK Jayaraj, one of the forces behind the initiative, says that such success stories help in changing the perception that people with intellectual disabilities cannot be independent.
Anjali, Tina, Anjana at Sargasheshi
Anjali, Tina, Anjana at Sargasheshi
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Running her fingers gently across the petals, Anjali gives us a short tutorial on how to make a fabric flower, before spinning a mallet around a singing bowl and suggesting that this too is a good buy. She, with Tina and Anjana, three of the four saleswomen with intellectual disabilities employed at the Sargasheshi handicraft place in Kozhikode, rattle off the benefits and prices of the artefacts like seasoned professionals. Anushree, the fourth salesperson, is not there on the April day we visit the place. But all four faces have become familiar to many on social media after news of their success story began spreading.

“The perception has always been that people with intellectual disabilities cannot work or earn for themselves, that they will always be dependent on others. Success stories like these are changing that,” says Dr MK Jayaraj, who is one of the main forces behind the Sargasheshi initiative.

The idea of finding job opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities developed when parents of these children got together and raised the issue: how will they look after themselves once they turned 18. Special schools were not always an option. Prasanath Nair, the IAS officer who was the Collector of Kozhikode at the time, asked Dr Jayaraj’s help. “We thought of starting in a small way, to train 25 persons with intellectual disabilities so they could find employment in five years. I asked the Uralungal Labour Contract Co-operative Society (ULCCS) if they could provide financial support, and they did. We got special educators to train the persons with ID, and prepared a curriculum for employability skills. In five-six years, we have placed 120 persons with ID in different organisations, and 60% of them are women,” Dr Jayaraj says.

Dr Jayaraj with Anushree, Anjana, Tina and Anjali
Dr Jayaraj with Anushree, Anjana, Tina and Anjali

Many have been placed at the KMCT Medical College, as lab assistants. There were also placements in clinics, shops, and malls. The training takes place at the UL Care Nayanar Sadanam in Kozhikode.

The Sargasheshi store is also one such startup funded by the ULCCS and opened in 2021. The outbreak of COVID-19 had slowed down the business in its early months, but it picked up once videos of the four women expertly handling sales began to spread on social media. Anjali, Anjana, and Tina, at ease in their roles as salespersons, prompt you to buy the many cloth bags or else the sculptures at Sargasheshi. They point to Durga sculptures and say that actor Parvathy Thiruvothu always buys them. All three are admirers of the actor and speak of her films in great interest. Tina has also acted in a short film, the store-in-charge Akhil says.

Actor Parvathy at Sargasheshi
Actor Parvathy at Sargasheshi

Their trainer Jayalalitha is also in the store and speaks of the women’s skills in making fabric flowers or vases made of beads and other small objects. 

“The money that they make from these jobs go to their bank accounts. The attitude of their family members towards them has also changed in a big way. How the tables have turned. Now family members sometimes come to me and ask to put in a word with our participants to lend them some money!” Dr Jayaraj says, laughing. 

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