Dance and sport were her life, but when Naseema Mohammed Amin Hurzuk turned 16, she became a paraplegic. Suddenly, she found herself bedridden and wheelchair-bound and she lost her will to live.
That’s when she met Babu Kaka Diwan, a fellow paraplegic who ran his own industry. He showed her how she could be independent despite her infirmities.
With a renewed zest to live, Hurzuk, in 1984, registered the non-profit organisation, Helpers of the Handicapped, in Kolhapur. Her main focus was to redress the lack of a comprehensive rehabilitation programme in Maharashtra.
Guts all the way
Over the years, the organisation has expanded to form a Vocational Training Centre (VTC) (1993), Gharonda (1996), a hostel-cum-rehabilitation centre, and Samarth Vidya Mandir (2001), an integrated school for such children with customised infrastructure. At Swapna Nagari, an agricultural project in Sindhudurg, the differently abled are involved in cashew processing and furniture making (they also make customised furniture for the physically challenged) among other activities.
Her work has won her several accolades including the FICCI Ability Award for Eminence (2003) and most recently, the Woman of the Year award from the IMC. Winning for Hurzuk means more responsibility to reach out to more physically challenged people: “They must be integrated into society, and be able to make a living. There needs to be mental rehabilitation as well,” she explains.
Her work is centred in Kolhapur and Sindhudurg. While she’s keen to launch such facilities in Mumbai and other cities, the lack of support hasn’t helped her expand. She is dismayed with government apathy. “Apart from the two acres of land for the hostel and two acres for the school, there’s been no help. Only foreign funding and corporate sponsorships have made all this possible. We tried operating income-generating ventures like running an LPG agency, but the bureaucratic harassment made us reconsider,” sighs Hurzuk.
She was also part of the National Commission For Women and appointed by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment as a member of a welfare committee, but the experience left her feeling disillusioned. “There was no change and no vision for change, so I dissociated myself from it. It is the government’s responsibility to look after the physically challenged but they’ve been shrugging it off. For eight years, we ran a residential centre for the mentally challenged in Pune, but the government shut it down citing lack of manpower; there have been many such instances.”
Hurzuk is presently working to get a bill passed that offers tax exemptions for the physically challenged: “Their production capacity is less and to meet the demands they end up working more. Eventually, when taxes take away a large share of the revenue, it demoralises them,” she explains, adding that they paid lakhs of rupees in taxes and haven’t got 50% of the refunds yet.