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Radio Kashmir employs many visually and physically handicapped as contract employees. Though they earn a meagre sum, for some it is the only source of income and a dignified livelihood. Shafath Hussain reports

When he is airing the sports news on Radio Kashmir Srinagar, it looks as if he was there when India played Australia or was an eyewitness to the Rafael Nadal’s seven straight victories in Monte Carlo. But Aijaz Sofi, the anchor, has never seen a cricket ball or a tennis match. Aijaz is blind from birth. There are many more like him working in the Radio Kashmir Srinagar, who have limited capabilities but use them to their fullest.

Hailing from Srinagar’s commercial hub, Lal Chowk, 35-year-old Aijaz works in the sports section of Radio Kashmir. He is the newsreader of the Sports Times, a popular sports news programme.

He praises the producers there for giving him a chance. “Though blind, I have a liking for sport since childhood. It is they (producers) who gave me a chance here,” says Aijaz.

Though he earns a meagre sum, he is happy to contribute to family income. “I merely get Rs 2000 here, few programmes in a month, but it is better than earning nothing,” he explains. He says he wants to support his father and his sister’s education.

A newsreaders job requires a lot of reading and Aijaz can’t.

“You know we blinds have been bestowed with a sense of efficient memory,” He says “I listen to many sports news programmes, record them, memorise, give it a proper sequence and then deliver it in the studio”.

Bashir Ahmad Bach, producer with Radio Kashmir says that these artists are hired on need basis. “Whenever we need them and if funds are available they are called for the programme,” Bashir says. “We pay them according to the programmes. For each programme they are paid around Rs 500”.

The handicapped people working in the radio have to go through auditions and various tests like other people before being selected for a job.

Renowned broadcaster Syed Humayu Qaiser says that blind persons fare better in radio for “their voice and their memorizing power”.

Hailing from Budgam, Feroz Ahmad has not let his disability overcome his passion. Though totally blind he has done Bachelors in Music. Being a vocalist, he sings at the Radio. The financial conditions in his home are not-so-rosy. He has to contribute to the family’s income. His old father always accompanies him whenever there is a recording.

Like Feroz, Assadullah is also not bestowed with the power to see with his eyes. He too is a permanent blind since birth. This artist in his early fifties is from a village in Baramulla. He is often heard reciting holy Quran and Naat at Radio Kashmir. Having a blind sister and a widowed mother, Asadullah is the only breadwinner of his family. Besides this he works in SKIMS Soura as a chair weaver.

Abdul Majid hails from a dusty village of Budgam. Handicapped with a permanent disability, he has been in Radio from last ten years. Though he has earned a lot of respect, there has been little cash in his pocket. His family depends on the money he earns from the station.

Surprisingly no woman with such disabilities works in the radio. “It is an irony that no women like them (disabled) come here. We should find them and they should not hesitate to approach us,” says Qaiser.

The producers and other executives who work with the few disabled working in the station say that they are always on time.

Most of the disabled working in the Radio are not happy the way they are paid. “It is not a permanent job where you get a package at the end of the month,” says Aijaz. He feels that they don’t get so much of chance to show their talent but he thanks the radio for providing them a platform. Like him, Abdul Majid too feels that the government should encourage such people. “If we are capable in one field we must be given more reservations,” he adds.

Almost all the disabled working in Radio Kashmir are employed on contract and paid as per the number of programmes they do.

Bashir Bach says that contract rates in the radio are uniform throughout India. “We cannot and have no powers to change it but Prasar Bharti revises it every five years. Strangely they have not raised it from last seven years.”

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