“As we stood among the poorest of poor in Jaipur, some
of them coming there from thousands of miles away, we realized that this was
not about fitting limbs, but about restoring dignity to other human beings, and
in the process, to ourselves. For it is in giving that we receive. There may be
other places in the world where compassion is that tangible, it is just that we
had not seen any.”
-Elaine and Armand Neukermans, eminent US scientist
Imagine if you could bring a difference in the
lives of millions of people, Imagine if you could bring a ray of hope in their lives,
Imagine if you could give their broken hearts a reason to be mended again and
restore their faith in themselves and humanity. This is what Jaipur Foot, a
prosthetic leg did. A prosthetic leg made not for minting money, profits,
greed, or business purposes but solely to help the people and to give them back
their ability to walk and not make them feel helpless anymore.
Who was behind changing the lives of
these million people? A man filled with compassion, who gave them something
more valuable than money was D.R Mehta who set up BMVSS, a non-governmental organization in 1975,
which provided them the prosthetic leg, also known as the Jaipur foot, and the
required aid along with it, free of cost. However,
what triggered Mehta to set up this organization and devote all his time to it?
The actual pain of such people can only be seen if one has experienced it. Mr D.R
Mehta took a leaf out of his own traumatic life-threatening incident and went
on a path to enlighten the lives of many disabled people.
BMVSS has become a huge
organization over the years and has focused on the advancement of the
prosthetic leg along with providing the best quality to the people irrespective
of their caste, creed, religion and status. They’ve treated rich and poor alike
because for them everyone’s life is valuable and equal.
It’s remarkable how the
organization has managed to get such large donations every year however, the
organization is not self sufficient and often the sustainability is questioned.
Also, without any advertising strategy how did the organization get donors
every year? Perhaps, the good connections of D.R Mehta did work and a word of
mouth was enough for the kind and selfless work that he was doing. Jaipur Foot
initially became famous through word of mouth publicity, but today when the
organization is so huge, and the need of funds is even more, is a word of mouth
The Invention of Jaipur Foot
Jaipur Foot, a prosthetic leg
was born out of an
idea presented by Dr. Udawat, in the form of a thesis which was guided by Dr.
P.K Sethi and truly brought to life by Sculptor Master Ram Chander Sharma. Sharma
saw Dr. P.K Sethi working with accident patients who had lost their limbs at SMS
Hospital. A few of them were fitted with artificial limbs, as they were
expensive and based on German and American designs. However, Sharma observed
that the limb instead of making their lives easier provided them with
discomfort and didn’t provide them mobility. He decided to put his sculpting
skills into use and model a foot, which would look, and function like a human
foot. He discussed this idea with Sethi and over the next two years they
started developing the alternatives.
focus was to design a low-cost artificial foot according to the Indian amputees
and the functionality as close to a human foot.
They decided to use materials, which were locally available and cost
effective, and this in turn lead to a successful design of the Jaipur Foot in
THE STORY OF BMVSS
story started with D.R Mehta. Who was Mehta and what made him devote all his
life to help people and in return take nothing? Mehta, a retired Indian
Administrative Service officer, a former chairman of the Securities and Exchange
Board of India who had also held the position of Deputy Governor of the Reserve
Bank of India, had a great career, however, Mehta was instilled with the feeling of serving people since a very young
age and it was his grit and the want to help people that he built an
organization this big over the years.
In 1969, D.R Mehta had a
major car accident and his leg was broken in 43 places. The doctors thought
they had to amputate the leg but he was lucky to have received such good care,
and the doctors managed to save it. After his recovery he used to visit his
doctors regularly to thank them however every time the doctors would tell him
that his condition was so bad that they thought they had to amputate his leg.
However in his case the government would send him to U.S or U.K for the
treatment but what about people who were poor? While going to the hospital for
physiotherapy, the accident victims whose legs were amputated saddened Mehta,
he could feel their pain. It made him think about the people who weren’t
fortunate, he wanted to do something for them and six years later he established
He had a vision of what BMVSS
would be like and he welcomed people with open arms who had nothing and not
only provided them with limbs free of cost but also focused on other aspects
i.e. economic and social rehabilitation and gave them the confidence to start
their lives afresh
Everyday life at BMVSS
“When I came
here for the first time, I saw people who had lost their legs, and what I
noticed was they had not only lost a leg but something even more than that,
they had given up, their numb eyes conveyed the pain that they were in, but in
a few hours I saw those faces again, their numb eyes conveyed hope this time,
they were fitted with a prosthetic leg and when I saw a man taking his first
step again, it was heart rendering and fulfilling and I was convinced that this
was the greatest form of humanity I have ever seen.”
BMVSS witnessed people coming
in from different cities everyday who had nothing, they weren’t able to walk, a
lot of them were uneducated and couldn’t read or write, many of them were even
below the poverty line who weren’t able to afford their meals. People who came in with the hope of getting a prosthetic leg and
be able to walk again, most of them were lost not literally but emotionally,
physically, and socially lost and why wouldn’t they be? One of the major
reasons why they were disheartened was because of the society, the way they
were treated and looked down upon after losing their leg. Some of them were
even fired from their jobs after becoming disabled and this left them helpless,
as they didn’t have any money or resources for treatment.
The specialty of BMVSS that D.R Mehta created which set it apart
from other organisations was that he made sure that the patients could walk in
at any time, no prior registration was required and anybody working in the
oganisation could admit them, including the guard, and they would then be
examined by the doctors in the next working hours. D.R Mehta said, “Poor
people…do not know how to read and write. How do you expect them to write to a
hospital for an appointment or register themselves?” Keeping a registration
system like other hospitals would’ve gone against Mehta’s ideologies, as it
would’ve excluded the neediest who required immediate help.
The organization works completely on a Patient-centric
management system. A person coming in BMVSS is given full attention from the
moment he arrives. Patients start coming in the morning and the doctors and
workers immediately get to work and start with the process of making their
artificial limb. Within a few hours, the patient is fitted with an artificial
limb. However, in complex cases if the prosthetic leg takes more time the
patient can stay at the centre at the expense of BMVSS. After the fitting if
the patient is dissatisfied or facing any discomfort he can tell the technician
who works on it till the patient is satisfied.
UPLIFTING PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
The organization has always put their patients first, and till
date they have treated every single patient and sent them home with their
restored self-respect and dignity. Moreover, they have given the people in need
a means to start their livelihood. It’s difficult to find an organization that’s
making such a huge difference in the lives of people who hardly had anything. They’ve
adopted certain values and philosophies since the organisation’s inception and
have been following them diligently.
Free Assistance – They have been providing all the aids and
appliances free of cost. Many people who come here are poor and some of them
even below the poverty line.
At the organizations the employees make the patients believe
that the free services are not charity and help that they are offering them
willingly so that they can walk out with their self-respect intact.
Equality and Respect – BMVSS treats everyone with equally
irrespective of their caste, religion, background and every patient is given
individually given attention.
Accessibility – The organisation has been organizing
rehabilitation camps in remote areas so that theirs services could reach to as
many handicapped people as possible.
Empowerment – Patients are motivated the minute they enter the
premises. After the leg fitting they’re pumped up with enthusiasm. BMVSS tries
to help people and gives them assistance for self-employment.
“People who live inside the world’s many was zones
from Afghanistan to Rwanda may never have heard of New York or Paris, but they
are likely to know of a town in northern India called Jaipur. Jaipur is famous
in strife-torn areas as the birthplace of an extraordinary prosthesis or
artificial limb known as the Jaipur foot that has revolutionized life for
millions of landmine amputees. The beauty of the Jaipur foot is its lightness
and mobility – those who wear it can run, climb trees and pedal bicycles – its
has established 22 permanent centres across India in order to provide as much
aid as possible. The main centre being Jaipur, the other branches function
independently but they have to use the Jaipur foot technology and adhere to the
guidelines set by BMVSS.
part of their outreach programme, BMVSS has camps in India and internationally and
more than 60,limb fitment camps have been held in 27 countries across the world
such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria etc. The organization also
trained people at these sites about the making and the fitting of the leg so
that they could make one on their own and can others in need in their country.
One such example is of a girl named Florencia –
with a few other people from Mozambique was working in the organization and making a prosthetic leg. But
why was girl from another country and a different continent altogether here? The
story goes back to 2015, two humanitarians Douglas and John from California who
read an article about Florencia and other handicapped landmine victims in a
National Geographic article and decided to find her and get her a prosthetic
leg. Prosthetic leg in the U.S would have cost around $15,000 each and the limb
would only last for 4-7 years. Worried, they started looking for other options
for Florencia on Google and came across Jaipur Foot. The prosthetic leg that
they saw in the pictures looked like a human foot and not like the other
robot-like foot. They read further that the limb was produced for $50 and that
too without taking a single penny from the patients, it was FREE. Not only
this, a person could bathe with the prosthetic as opposed to the other
expensive ones. They instantly sent them a mail and got a reply within a day. A
reply, which was full of concern about Florencia, and D.R Mehta, was more than
happy to help, if they could get Florencia to Jaipur. Not only Florencia, Mehta
expressed a desire to help others suffering in Mozambique. He offered to train
the technicians from Mozambique, free of cost, who could create a permanent
clinic. As a further option he also told them he could send his team to
Mozambique for a month and fit limbs on 500 amputees. Douglas and John were in
awe and they exclaimed, “What kind of man would do this? Why? For an anonymous
girl in the bush of Africa? At the request of two unknown men, thousands of
miles away, on another continent?” Perhaps, a man with a very kind heart.
Florencia, travelled for the first time ever
in her life and came to Jaipur. When Florencia entered BMVSS, everyone was so
welcoming and embracing that she no longer felt like an outsider and as soon as
she got a limb, it was a moment of pure joy for everybody who made it happen. Who
knew an article could change somebody’s life. Florencia with a group of people
came back to India after 2 years to learn the process of making an artificial
limb and help as many people as she could in Mozambique with the support of D.R
in terms of opening 22 centres is fulfilled, however are people living in those
cities aware about Jaipur Foot?
Funding and Sustainability
The funds come in from the grants and generous donations by the
people. The organization had also established a
physiotherapy clinic on its premises, which also generated some revenue. It’s
remarkable how the organization managed to get such large donations every year
however, the organization is not self sufficient and often the sustainability
is questioned. With the increasing number of patients coming in every year, the
need of funds also increases. The organization has faced trouble in the past
but has managed to sustain every year even though Mehta had to put his personal
money to reach the requirements at times. D.R said, ” We have never had to turn
away a patient, God willing, never will. In my equation, E=MC2 + G,
where E stands for effort, M for money, C for compassion and G for God.”
The number of donations is unpredictable every
year and with the increasing patients the organization needs a sustainable
plan. Some people in the Advisory board also question the free-for-all model
and a chief patron of BMVSS, Neukermans said ” The way to develop a company is
not by keeping the services free but by setting a sustainable business.” This
meant that Mehta should start charging a nominal amount for his product.
Charging the product could also improve the technological advancements in the
leg even to a further extent like the longevity. But how was this even
possible? Most of the patients are poorest of the poor and fall below the
poverty line, how could they expect them to pay.
There are a lot of people in India and abroad
who want to be part of organisations like BMVSS but aren’t aware about them. Famous
universities like Stanford who helped BMVSS and developed a Stanford-Jaipur
knee, a knee joint for above knee prosthesis with a revolutionary new technology,
which was declared as one of the 50 Best Inventions of the world by the TIME
magazine in the year 2009. Ongoing
research projects with MIT for the development of a new knee joint, a
polyurethane foot, and an off-road wheelchair for paraplegic patients have also
been going on. Some famous Indian scientific institutions like ISRO, IITs, MNIT
Jaipur, NIT Delhi, etc. have also provided support. With a support system so huge, which consists names of
such renowned universities, how is it that majority of people, especially in
India aren’t aware about this organisation?
Will the organization sustain
after D.R Mehta?
BMVSS was a one-man army,
everything depended on one man, D.R Mehta and he was solely responsible for
building the organization with his beliefs and compassion. When you enter the
organization, you see all the technicians following a systematic process and
working diligently to satisfy the patients. Mehta has build trust amongst the
technicians, doctors and everybody working in the oganisation and that has
motivated them to work. Some of the technicians working in the organization are
also disabled and were fitted with Jaipur foot and then employed by Mehta to
serve the other patients because who would understand the pain of the patients
better than them. Mehta not only gave them a livelihood but a chance to uplift
themselves and help others like them.
The majority of donations
that the organization received were due to the connections of Mehta during his
government days. Mehta
has kept the system completely transparent and the person who’s donating know
that his entire amount is going to go for the benefit of that poor person only.
The organisation doesn’t even spend Rs 5 for tea during their meetings unless
somebody sponsors it. Not even a single penny is used from their funds. This
instigated the donors to donate more and spread the word about Jaipur Foot.
The main question however
remains, What is going to happen to the organization after Mehta? Will the
successor able to get in as many donations?
Is a word of mouth