From colorful paper pens in the Indian tricolor to floor mats in festive colors, the products sold by Kerala’s Handicrops Divyanga Impex Limited (HDIL) have acquired quite a name. Few people know of the incredible story behind this public limited company based in Kerala.
Formed with the stated mission of empowering artisans with disabilities, HDIl aims to highlight their creative talents and offer them a platform to showcase their skills and earn a livelihood. The company has eight directors, of whom five are wheelchair users.
What HDIL does is that it enables those people who are disabled who do not have the benefits of an education or the financial backing to afford high-tech assistive technology devices and mobility aides, to earn from their homes. Most importantly, it is an initiative by the disabled for the disabled, a fact that has enabled the company to gain acceptance within the disabled community of Kerala.
The founder of HDIL, Lekha Kumar, hit upon the idea of starting an enterprise to empower people with disabilities after a chance encounter with disabled people. “I noticed that there were many disabled persons who had products but couldn’t market them due to mobility issues. So, I created a Facebook group for them called Handicrops. I started Handicrops as a Facebook group to promote products made by people with disabilities. We trained 5,000 differently abled people around Kerala. There are about a thousand people making paper pens, paper bags, umbrellas, seed bags. cloth bags, mats etc. We sold 12 lakh paper seed pen in less than two hours. This way people can earn a livelihood sitting at homes. Even their dependants are associated with it.” she said.
HDIL also has a brand of nature friendly projects which enables the tribal community in Kerala. “They make cotton bags and varieties of cotton mats and we are also promoting recycled paper note pads and paper straws”, says Kumar. In the future there are plans to launch biodegradable sanitary napkins and reusable pads as well.
The initiative is inclusive in spirit, as it reaches out to not just people with disabilities but people from economically backward communities. Since it was launched in 2017, it has reached out to 200 people in different districts of Kerala. Over 6,000 people have been trained as well.
One of the people whom it has enabled in earning a livelihood is Thaha from Thiruvananthapuram. Thaha suffered a severe spinal injury in a fall. Although his mobility was affected, his resolve was not. Thaha started making umbrellas and electronic items and earns a livelihood. “With my earnings I am able to support my family of three. Thanks to HDIL I have been able to find a market for my goods.”
Like Thaha, there are many members of HDIL who make paper pens, LED bulbs, paper bags, umbrellas, handmade soaps, jewellery and handicrafts. They sell directly as well as online. Mustafa Paramban, Managing Director, HDIL who is bedridden due to spinal muscular atrophy, is happy that his gift for making umbrellas has enabled him to become independent. "This has become a permanent source of income for me and I can support my family", he says.
K. Ranjini of Kilimanoor in Thiruvananthapuram is one of the company’s beneficiaries. Now in her late thirties, she has been bed-ridden for years due to spinal muscular atrophy. A talented water colour artist, she is now happy that her hobby of making paper pens will get the backing of a public limited company. The pens she makes lying in bed will be sold across Kerala. “I now feel that making paper pens could become a permanent source of income that could help me support my family. It will no longer remain just a hobby. These pens also help the environment as they are a better alternative to the non-biodegradable plastic pens,” Ranjini says.
“We have been approached by the governments of Gujarat and Odisha to start a company there,” says Kumar. Clearly HDIL’s mission to challenge common assumptions about people with disabilities and push boundaries is finding resonance with more people.