As a child with both legs disabled by polio, Sujata Wagchoure dreamt of triumphing over her disability in the world of sport. A natural athlete, wheelchairbound Sujata’s talent and the support of well-wishers took her to several gold and silver medals at international track and field competitions for disabled sportspersons in Thailand and New Zealand in the late ’90s, besides many state and national- level honours.
In fact, she tells Mirror, at her peak she wanted to do nothing more than play, and win, all her life. The State government recognised her effort, awarding her the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Award for excellence in sports in 2001. However, life intervened. Her marriage to Abhay Pawar, also physically challenged, in 1999 brought her sports career to a halt.
A year later in 2001, Abhishek was born to them, and the need for a steady income became a priority. Taking advantage of a Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) rule made in 1994 that provides jobs to Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Award winners, Sujata applied for the post of junior clerk with the PMC.
Ten years and numerous reminders, recommendations and appeals later, Sujata, now 42, is still waiting. To make ends meet, she runs a small pan and cigarette kiosk in Bibvewadi, close to her tenement near Bhagli Hospital. The kiosk also houses a photocopier, donated by a well-wisher.
With gutkha being banned, income from the kiosk is set to drop, she said. It’s this constant dependence on outside help that is fraying her nerves. “I don’t want money from others. Mujhe bheek nahin chahiye. I am a self-made person. I have brought laurels to the nation with my wins in international competitions.
What I want is a legitimate job which will ensure that I stand on my own feet. Can’t Iexpect a job from my city?” K C Karkar, PMC deputy commissioner (Establishment), said her file needs to be located. “The procedure is such that she will have to undergo a written examination for any post advertised by the PMC.
The selection will be done as per the quota reserved for sportspersons. The concerned person should get in touch with my office so that the details of the case can be ascertained from the files,” Karkar said. Sujata’s childhood was spent in Kasba Peth, where her parents eked out a living doing odd jobs.
“At one time, my parents even ran a mess. My father passed away when I was in Class IV. I met Abhay at a sports meet. At that time, he was working as a porter at Market Yard. He has disabilities in his hand and leg. We got married in 1999. He now helps me out at our kiosk, Abhishek Communications,” she said.
The highest points of Sujata’s sports career were her gold medals in discus and javelin throw events at the New Zealand Parafed Internationall Sports Championships in 1998, and a shot put gold at the 7th Far East and South Pacific (FESPIC) Games for the Disabled in Bangkok, Thailand the next year.
Funds for travelling to event venues at home and abroad came through donations from well-wishers. “When it comes to facilities and employment for disabled persons, most states are much ahead of Maharashtra and sensitive to their needs. It is unfortunate that PMC is treating disabled persons in this way,” she added.
Her name was, in fact, selected as a special candidate for the post of junior division clerk at the PMC in 2001 during the tenure of then-municipal commissioner T C Benjamin, now the urban development department secretary. However, she said, her file remained buried at the PMC recruitment department and was never taken up for consideration despite recommendations by Benjamin. “There was an officer named Arun Patil who headed the recruitment department.
He deliberately sat on the file for years together despite me being an eligible candidate,” she alleged. Demanding that her file be revived as she still had age on her side, Sujata said she would have easily completed a decade of service and would not have been forced to do odd jobs and sell tobacco products to customers who visit the countrymade liquor outlet nearby.
But turn the conversation to her son Abhishekh, a Class VI student of Muktangan School in Bibvewadi, and the angst disappears to be replaced by pride. “He has been scoring 90 per cent and above in all his exams. It feels great when my son does well at school, but his educational expenses are rising.
A job with the PMC can bring in regular income and help me save for my son’s studies. The income from this kiosk is inadequate,” she said. Abhay said his physical disability had kept him unemployed, forcing him to do odd jobs. “We have been to the PMC recruitment office many times, but the officials present don’t bother to talk to us.
We are fed up with their approach and have nobody to turn to. Besides, the situation is alarming as gutkha, a major source of income for us, has been banned by the government,” he said.
► The concerned person will have to get in touch with my office so that facts can be ascertained from her file. Any applicant will have to sit for an exam
- K C Karkar Dy Comm (Establishment)