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Your disability is your ownership - My Take by Amar Jain, winner, NCPEDP Mphasis Javed Abidi Public Policy Award 2018

July 24, 2018

From small-town Jodhpur to a career as a successful equity capital markets lawyer with one of India's top law firms, Amar Jain's journey is truly an inspiration. In My Take this week, Jain, who is one of the winners of the NCPEDP Mphasis Javed Abidi Public Policy Award 2018, shares his story.

None of my family members have any career background in law whatsoever. My father is into jewellery, my mom takes care of my food pampering, and my brother is a software engineer. In fact, when I had to decide on a career option, my father thought that law would be the easiest, given that his friends studied a day before the exams, and yet did well for themselves!

I was born prematurely. While I was born fine, excess oxygen and negligence by doctors damaged my retina. I developed retinal detachment. In simple terms, my retinal veins do not have blood circulation for them to be able to generate eyesight. In my case, the problem got diagnosed when I was four months old at which point saving my retina was a nil possibility.

At the time, my family was based in Jodhpur where access to information, awareness levels, opportunities, etc were all rather limited. The early days of post-disability diagnosis are hard for anyone. Given the limited awareness, the attitude you get is mostly sympathy rather than positivity.

Battling disability stereotypes

My parents did whatever they could to accommodate my blindness. As for others, they changed their thinking based on how I changed. I used to get comments like - 'what will this poor blind fellow do?' For people at large, I was more like a social service obligation.

I used to sing and play musical instruments during those days, so people thought I would become someone famous like the late Ravindra Jain. Everywhere I went, I would be asked to sing and then people would give me food and sometimes money. But no one would talk to me. All this led me to quit music completely.

I got admitted to a blind school, which had its pros and cons. The thinking there is quite limited. As career options, few were shown. In terms of sports, cricket, chess and playing cards were the only avenues. Things like grooming, no one talked about, all of which impacts you later in life.

The biggest challenge at that point in time was to acquire material in a format which you could read on your own. Books were not available after class 9 in Braille, and getting audio recordings done was a challenge. I was lucky enough to find teachers who were enlightened and that got me here.

Attitude change

The turning point was in class 5 when I wanted to go for tuitions like my friends. I went to my dad and said either get me tuitions or I can't study these books. He slapped me really hard and said either learn to do self-study, or I will get a silver bowl for you to beg, because that's the only thing you can do in life if you can't study. Exactly three days thereafter, I kept all my books in front of him, and told him "Ask me anything from wherever you want.". That one instance made me work for achieving dignity of my own.

After school I started looking at various career options. We decided that law was the best option as every government department needs a law officer. I thought if I do law, I can also help my community to get the rights which all of us deserve.

Today, I am an equity capital markets lawyer. Simply put, when companies want to raise money by listing their shares on the stock exchanges, or raise further capital by issuing new shares or debentures, they come to lawyers like us, for diligence, documentation, and other transactional advice. Unlike traditional lawyers, I don't go to court rooms. I work with a corporate law firm in Mumbai. I love this area for many reasons.

First, I am not stitched to a particular industry or a company. So the knowledge which I derive about different industries and companies is a huge incentive.

Second, due to the current challenges where technology fails, many experienced professionals believe that it is not possible for a blind person to become a successful capital markets lawyer. And I want to change this while I have the opportunity.

Third, I always wanted to work in financial and commercial law. Fourth, I want to acquire the best of the intelligence from bankers, auditors, private equity investors, and people running the businesses.

Lastly, I just want to do it. I don't want 1,000 people who need me, I want one excellent brain who needs me.

The message I want to give people with disabilities is that this life and your disability is your ownership. Accept it, move on with it, and decide for yourself what you want to achieve out of it. People cannot deny your existence. Don't allow others to choose things for you. Today, finding information, right people, and opportunities has become easier. You need to be active, network with the right people, get to know about other disabilities, and work together to make life better. Attitudinal barriers will continue to exist.

To recruiters I want to say this. Employing people with disability is not a CSR kind of an initiative. They too have lives, and they too need jobs to survive. And you have to, at the end of the day, deliver business to your clients. So, understand their capabilities, challenges, devise strategies to find solutions, equip them with technology, and give them the right moral support.

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