(Written by Maheep Dhanoa)
FORMER SEPOY Sashi Kumar has had a busy day. From planning a serving officer’s vacation in Bhutan to helping another get discounted tickets for travel back home, he has done it all. Welcome to the Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre (PRC) at Mohali. Home to soldiers and officers rendered paraplegic during service, it’s now running a travel portal called Udchalo for the forces.
“Life is getting very interesting as this service makes us feel so useful. What’s more, it also broadens our knowledge,” says Sashi Kumar, a wheelchair-bound operator at the Udchalo office that was inaugurated at the PRC on May 6 this year.
Founded in 2012 under UpCurve Business Services Private Limited, a company registered with the government and run mostly by defence staff and children, the online portal provides concessional air tickets with partner airlines to defence personnel, paramilitary forces, dependents and veterans to make it easier for them to go home. It has a number of booking offices all over the country with its head office in Kirkee, Pune.
On being asked if talking to others about travel makes him yearn to travel, Sashi Kumar says, “No, because we keep going for national and international matches at least twice a year. We’ve been to Hyderabad, Chennai and Bangalore.”
He adds, “I like talking to people and it’s good that now we have some technical work to do. It also helps our minds remain stable.” Besides him, the team currently consists of ex-Lance Naik Brajesh Yadav, ex-sepoys Bipan Thapa, Ranga Nath, B Ramakrishna, Devendra Singh, Ravindra Singh and Mohd Latief Bhat.
Col Guljit Chadha (retd), who rolled out this initiative, says the soldiers get a stipend of Rs 5,000 each. The paraplegic soldiers attend calls and provide solutions to all issues and queries that Udchalo users might have. “I realised that they should have some kind of job or vocation which they can do while in their wheelchairs. We approached Udchalo and they were quick to agree,’’ says Chadha, who has also tied up with a British firm to teach English to the PRC inmates.
Earlier, the opportunities available to the inmates were restricted to either candle-making or knitting. “That is why I have also introduced a computer lab for them where we are training them in computer applications and communication skills. This is how they began to work in Udchalo. They attend around 70-80 calls per day and I can see a visible change in their morale,” says Col Chadha.
The clean and air-conditioned room where they take the calls is fitted with computers, other equipment, news clippings and a supervisor who checks on their well-being.
Ramesh Chandra Behra, the current supervisor, says, “We provide training for 15 days and teach them how to handle the system. We will train another batch of eight people soon. The problem occurs in training them as some of them are 8th or 10th or 12th pass so their knowledge is limited. This programme will transform their lives.”