Two decades ago, Bhavesh Chandubhai Bhatia lost his vision, and soon after, his 17-year-old job as a hotel manager. The same year, he exhausted his savings on his mother’s treatment for skin cancer.
Bouncing back, he enrolled in a candle-making course at the National Association of Blind (NAB), Mahalaxmi. Starting with a modest hand cart, Bhatia, now 44, has since set up a flourishing business of designer candles, and employs more than 200 people – all visually impaired.
For this achievement, the Mahabaleshwar resident has been selected for the prestigious National Award for the Empowerment for Persons with Disabilities under the best self-employed resident category, given by the Indian government, this year. He has also become the first state recipient of the award, instituted by the two-year-old department of disability affairs under the Ministry of social justice and empowerment.
Bhatia will be felicitated by President Pranab Mukherjee in New Delhi on December 3, on the occasion of the International Day of Disabled Persons. He will receive Rs1 lakh in cash, along with a citation.
“I hope I serve as an inspiration to my ilk who lose ambition due to a disability,” Bhatia told HT over the phone from Delhi. Hailing from Kutch in Gujarat, Bhatia was born with partial retina macular degeneration, which worsened as he grew up and rendered him completely blind in his twenties. “Even as a child, I could see things only as a blur. But my parents continued my education in a regular school. Through the help of my friends, I could manage it,” he said.
After completing his schooling, Bhatia moved to Mahabaleshwar where his father was posted, and to support the family, quit education and joined work at a hotel. After losing his sight and his eventual stint at NAB, Bhatia started Sunrise Candles.
“Starting out with a Rs10,000 investment on 20 kg of wax and one dye, I am glad that our annual wax requirement has crossed 200 tonnes. My team, all of whom cannot see, offer around 1,000 unique designs,” said Bhatia, whose clientele includes large corporate houses and retail chains.
Hemant Patil, who retired as deputy director of NAB two years ago, taught the skill to Bhavesh and also nominated him for the award. “What he is doing is really commendable. I have seen him overcome all odds, and emerge a winner,” Patil said.