Run by the blind, call centre is big success story (Feature)

July 6th, 2008 - 3:27 pm ICT by IANS  

Prabhat Sharan
Mumbai, July 6 (IANS) The telephones never stop jangling and the waves go on crashing on the promenade outside. Unperturbed, 20 visually challenged men and women occasionally sniff the salty sea breeze even as their nimble fingers dial telephone numbers. They murmur softly into the phones. The high ceiling room - an old-world structure in the National Association for the Blind (NAB) headquarters off the Worli sea face here - is a call centre.

It is there that the visually challenged men and women, in their 20s and 30s, work with a smile on the corner of their lips.

The pilot project, initiated by NAB exactly one year ago, has been extremely successful.

“The Drashti Project was aimed at training the visually challenged in a way so as to make them tax payers and not tax consumers,” says Clarence Gomes, NAB executive director.

Gomes says for “a visually challenged person there is no such thing as day and night. We started this project to empower them and make them employable. And the call centre is doing that”.

Reena Chadha, project manager, Drashti Project, said: “The project has been successful and now we intend to start a similar project in the national capital in collaboration with the Blind Relief Association of Delhi. Training is on and by next week it will be inaugurated.”

In the NAB call centre, at present there are 20 employees, and “they do not work in shifts as our target is northern India - Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh”.

“We have trained them in the north Indian dialect and they focus only on Tata Indicom subscribers, as the project is supported by Tata Indicom, which also provided a special software for the purpose,” says Chadha.

The pilot project overcame teething troubles in a short time and now every day “they troop in chattering at 10 a.m. and diligently work till 5 p.m. with a lunch break in between. Their commitment is something to be admired,” Chadha said.

“They listen to the details and simultaneously talk to the person without any mistakes. It’s remarkable.”

Thirty-year-old Nasir Hashmi lost his sight soon after he took his Class 12 examinations.

“My retina got detached. I was studying commerce and afterwards, I used to do odd jobs. Since last May, I have been here and am managing to earn Rs.4,000 to Rs.4,500 per month on an average. Since it is a pilot project we are paid on a per call basis,” Hashmi said.

Chadha said the employees are given a target of 100 calls to be made every day and for each successfully processed call, they are paid Rs.3 to Rs.4.50. “The average is usually 90 calls every day.”

Talking about the much-hyped stress of being a call centre employee, Hashmi said matter-of-factly: “Every job has stress nowadays. One does get used to abusive language.

“Delhi people are the worst. They are the most abusive people in the entire northern region. At times you feel like laughing at them,” Hashmi said.

“Women never bother to listen and neither do men. Before calling we collect most of the details of the person concerned. Men sometimes do listen, but I have noticed that youngsters not only listen but also even provide details,” Hashmi said.

Monica Bisvakarma, 24, from Darjeeling, who is studying in second year college and also working at the call centre, voiced a similar sentiment: “Haryana and Punjab women just bang down the phone even though we speak in their dialect.

“I think most of the time they do not understand the products which we are offering. And as for Delhi men, the less said the better. Maybe they are always busy, that is why they are always rude.

“I don’t know but it is the youngsters who are always nice. Maybe I am able to gel with them because I am a youngster myself,” said Bisvakarma, who wants to do a masters in history.

Does she intend to continue with the job? “I want to graduate and go into teaching,” Bisvakarma said.

With jobs like packing and sorting - that used to be given to the visually challenged - fast disappearing, for people like Hashmi and Bisvakarma, the call centre has come as a boon providing them with a perfect job.

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