A disability rights organisation in Chennai has tied up with Loyal Textile Mills, to sell masks

If you see a person with a disability selling masks near you then you, then perhaps you could buy one. It would help their family rebuild their lives.

In the past week, around 25 such persons have been gainfully employed across the city and in the suburbs, thanks to the efforts of P. Simmachandran, president, Tamil Nadu Differently Abled Federation Charitable Trust, as well as of Loyal Textile Mills.

It all started through a social media post by D. Devadas, Chief Technology and Business Development Officer of the company. The post was read by Bengaluru-based Lakshmi Ravishankar, of Inclusion Beyond Abilities Trust. While the company was hoping to give jobs to those who had lost their livelihood during the COVID-19 pandemic, she suggested that the company choose persons with disabilities to sell their masks.

“We have made masks that are functionally equal to global standards,” said Mr. Devadas, adding the company had started developing the mask after a Central government-organised meeting in Delhi in January. “We have been doing a B-to-B with companies instead of giving it to retailers. Ms. Lakshmi contacted me after seeing my post on Facebook. She suggested that we contact Mr. Simmachandran and support people with disabilities,” he said.

Mr. Simmachandran arranged for 23 persons, who owned either a tricycle or two-wheelers, who could travel as well as sell the masks.

In an event organised on October 2, which is also the death anniversary of the Mills’ former chairman and managing director, Manickam Ramaswami, the project was launched in the presence of Information minister T.K. Raju, in Chennai.

The company has provided persons with disabilities the initial capital, and a few hundred masks to sell. In the last four days these persons have fanned out in various parts of the city and have also managed to garner large contracts for the company.

It is not all rosy for the disabled sellers, however. They often face harassment from either Corporation officials or the police.

“A young disabled woman who was selling the masks at the Aynavaram bus stand was threatened by the police and chased away,” said Mr. Simmachandran.

He recalled that a disabled woman who was running a tiffin centre from a push cart near Rajaji Bhavan lost her livelihood as the Corporation officials seized her vehicle a month ago. He fears the mask sellers could suffer a similar fate.

There are some practical difficulties as the sellers have to travel to one of the several show rooms of the company to procure the masks when they get bulk orders. “The company has said it would take over the distribution but they are wary of losing the commission they earn,” Mr. Simmachandran added.

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