Mitti Café, which was inaugurated last month in the Supreme Court premises by Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud and is run entirely by specially-abled staff, has provided people like 50-year-old Nimmi an opportunity to step out of home and earn a living with dignity.
“I used to work with an NGO called ‘Yes We Can’. I have also done tele-calling work from home for six months but this is the first time I stepped out of home and it feels good,” said Nimmi, who is busy taking orders on her wheelchair in a corner of the cafe.
Mitti Café is an initiative of the Mitti Social Initiative Foundation, an NGO working with persons with disabilities. The non-profit organisation provides them with employment opportunities.
Besides Nimmi, other specially-abled people, wearing yellow t-shirts and black pants, are also busy serving food to lawyers and customers. The t-shirts mention their names.
Like in the case of 31-year-old Ashok Kumar, who is visually disabled, it states: ‘Hi, I am Ashok, so happy to serve you.’
Ashok is part of a team of 12 which serves food.
“We first took 10 days of training in Hansraj College, and then started serving. They teach us how to deal with customers among other things,” he told Patriot.
Ashok, who stays at Badarpur Border, worked for around 10 years in a company amid people with full abilities, but this is his first job with the disabled.
“I lost my job in Covid. Since then, I tried finding a job but couldn’t get it, so I approached Aastha NGO as a last resort. They helped me with this job.”
He shares his experience, “I am feeling very well here. There is no problem. Earlier, when I worked among people with full abilities, there were people who were not so friendly. But here I feel like a family member. Khush hokar aata hu, khush hokar jata hu (I come to work happily and I return home happy).”
A job with Mitti Café also helped him financially and allows him to spend more.
“Until this job, I was dependent on the Rs 2500 per month, provided as pension by the central government. I used to spend very little money but now I can spend it on myself and also save,” Ashok said confidently.
“Lawyers also give us tips, recognising the good service we provide. We share the tip among ourselves.”
Mitti Cafe’s speciality is the kulhad chai (tea in earthen cup) and snacks like sandwiches and mini meals. It is very clean and well decorated.
Polite and courteous staff
The staff deals with customers in a very friendly manner. When costumers enter, they are welcomed by the staff with a smile and warm words, “Good afternoon sir, please take your bill too and sit on the chair, we will serve there.”
Usually, the café is packed and scores over other cafes in the complex due to its service and decoration.
“It is a holiday session now, otherwise you would not find a chair to sit here,” said Nikki.
Nikki, 23, a graduate from Delhi University has been a cashier in the café for the last eight months. Before this, she was in the Hansraj College branch of the café.
“It is a pleasure to work here. The people of the Supreme Court are sweet and polite. Compared to other places, we find ourselves very useful here,” said the excited Nikki, who is in a wheelchair.
“We are a 12-member team in the Supreme Court. Two are on wheelchairs, six are visually handicapped, one has a short hand while another is a deaf. We help each other in our work,” she said.
The Mitti Social Initiative Foundation, which was founded and run by Alina Alam, hires staff from different NGOs. Nikki was doing a computer course with the Samarthan NGO before she was hired.
“For the disabled, this is a very comfortable area. There is no work pressure here, so kafi accha lagta hai yaha kaam kar ke (I feel great working here),” explained Nikki.
“As disabled people generally face difficulties finding work, so Alina ma’am started this initiative. When they started, at that time they couldn’t even afford a wheelchair. But they wanted to give chance to the disabled and open more cafes too.”
Besides kulhad chai, the menu also includes chutney peace sandwich, chilli sandwich and tadke wali maggi.
“We also have a feedback book. If anyone feels any issue, he can write. Sab kuch badhiya hai, sir! (Everything is great, sir),” she said.
Alina started this operation in 2017 from Karnataka and currently, 40 such cafes are operating in India. They have created job opportunities for people with disabilities. The café has branches at Bengaluru International Airport, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai, offices of multinational companies, including in Gurugram and Hansraj College.
“Disabled people have a lot of talent but there are not enough opportunities for them. The aim of this cafe is to create awareness among people about disabled people and to ensure that they change their mindset and give opportunities to disabled too,” Alina told Patriot.
Positive feedback and the beginning
Two female lawyers, who had just been served tea and snacks while Patriot was there, gave positive reviews.
“All the them are sweet, they always smile. They have magical abilities. The decoration is also amazing. You can’t find a single negative review in the book,” they both told Patriot in unison.
Some of the responses in the review book were, ‘love the people here and their service’, ‘love the initiative and the atmosphere’ as well as ‘food and drink are good too’.
Alina started the café when she was 23 and studying in college. She was inspired by senior journalist and author P Sainath.
“I saw a documentary of P Sainath — Nero’s Guest, which was made in 2009 and was on the issue of farmers’ suicide. I was very appreciative of this. My grandmother was also disabled. As a child, we saw her suffering and later learnt that over seven crore people have disability. We also saw that people don’t take them seriously.”
The sight of her grandmother and the documentary film disturbed her.
“I tried to start awareness through food and cafes, to ensure that people can connect with them. We wanted to create awareness about the disabled through the café. This is a very simple model,” said Alina, who hails from Bengal.
Her first initiative was in Bengal. Since she couldn’t find land, she began under a tin shed.
“We started this initiative in 2017 in Hooghly beneath a tin shed. As much as 90% of the equipment was second hand in the first cafe. Now we have 40 cafes all over the country,” she explained.
“I decided to use the name ‘Mitti Café’ because despite many differences we are connected or our existence is with mitti (clay). We celebrate unity in diversity at Mitti Café.”
Alina adds that the Supreme Court café gives out a message that the apex judicial institution of the country believes in diversity, which is a very big statement.
“Our aim is to reach lakhs of disabled people since economic independence and dignity are not yet a reality for them.”
At the inauguration on November 10, the CJI had encouraged court staff to attend the café, saying, “I hope the bar (court) will support the initiative.”