Along with changing the prospects for millions of people with disabilities across the globe, the Jaipur Foot is also improving connectivity among people and helping India project its soft power.
Kupwara and Uri, two bordering towns along the Line of Control in the State of Jammu & Kashmir, have one of the highest densities of landmines in the world. Local residents often become unknowing victims of landmine explosions as these hilly pastures are traditional grazing grounds for their livestock. When Fatah Mohammed, a resident of Kupwara, went to graze his sheep, he accidentally stepped on an old landmine and lost one of his legs. Since then, Mohammed’s life and livelihood has come to a standstill. Unable to take care of his flock, his source of income slowly dried up, forcing him and his family to live a hand-to-mouth existence. But last month, his life took a new turn, thanks to the Jaipur Foot. Now, he can not only walk with his new prosthetic leg, but can also bow down to offer his prayers.
Mohammed is not the only one who has been able to get back on his feet. Last month, the Jaipur Foot transformed the lives of about 300 people who lost their limbs in such accidents. Four percent of Kupwara’s population of 8.7 lakh suffers from some disability. This is far higher than the national average (2.21 per cent). Landmine accidents near the Line of Control are a major cause of disability among the people living in Kupwara. India and Pakistan are among the 32 countries which have not signed the international Mine Ban Treaty.
Now free fitment of prosthetic legs is bringing back the spring in their lives, thanks to collaboration between the Pir Panjal Brigade of the Army, the Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti, makers of the Jaipur Foot, and its partner, the Spark Minda Foundation.
It all began in 2017, when the Pir Panjal Brigade saw the plight of residents of remote Sahora and Hathlanga villages along the Line of Control, who had lost their legs in landmine explosions or firing by Pakistan. Having heard about the Jaipur Foot’s life changing abilities, the Brigade flew down seven such people to Delhi for fitments.
Since then, there has been no looking back for these men. They are able to walk, run, climb, squat, sit cross-legged and perform daily activities with ease with the water-proof prosthetic leg.
Developed in 1968, the Jaipur Foot has changed million so lives so far. During its 50-year journey, it has touched the lives of over 1.7 million people in 34 countries. It was first crafted after three eminent orthopaedic surgeons at the SMS Medical College hospital, Jaipur, realised that the artificial foot available from America and Germany was unsuitable for Indians. Led by Dr PK Sethi, director and professor of rehabilitation, SMS Medical College and colleagues Dr SC Kasliwal and Dr MP Udawat, the first prototype was developed by master craftsman Ram Chandra.
About 58 fitments had been done when DR Mehta, then an IAS officer working with the Rajasthan Government, was admitted to the same hospital with a badly broken leg. During his prolonged stay in the hospital, he observed that most of the patients belonged to economically underprivileged communities. So, although he didn’t need a prosthetic leg, Mehta decided to do something to make the Jaipur Foot affordable.
The Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti (BMVSS) was formed in 1975 to enable the poorest of the poor stand up on their feet again. According to Mehta, the decision to centre their healthcare model on compassion led them to fit the Jaipur Foot free of cost. This would help them reach out to all disabled, irrespective of their caste, age, religion or gender. Beginning from one centre, BMVSS now has 22 branches across India and normally holds about 50 fitment camps in a year in different districts and remote areas of the country. It provides more than 16,000 prosthetic fitments every year and has helped 1.7 million people with physical disabilities in India get back their lives.
The first Jaipur Foot was a wood and vulcanised rubber structure. It has since then undergone several improvements, though the basic design remains the same. The latest version of the Jaipur Foot comprises an artificial leg (supporting the foot) made out of high-density polyethylene pipe with a plastic knee joint. This artificial limb is fitted to the amputee’s leg, thus facilitating a near-normal life. A patient who comes in the morning can walk out on his own two feet by evening.
Having seen the change among the seven men, who had lost their limbs after they had been fitted by the Jaipur Foot in 2017, the Pir Panjal Brigade requested BMVSS and its partner Spark Minda Foundation (SMF) to help them reach out this time to a larger number of people with disabilities, both men and women.
So, in September this year, under the Army’s Sadbhavana mission, the SMF organised an eight-day BMVSS camp in the State’s Baramulla district to enable needy residents from the border villages to come for fitments.
During this camp, the nine- member BMVSS technical team, comprising prosthetists and technicians, set up their workshop within the camp premises and made the Jaipur Foot with the help of Plaster of Paris and equipment, like grinders, cutters, vacuum suction machines, pipes and ovens. This helps fit the amputee within hours of being measured and reduces the waiting time.
Although the prosthetic legs are given free by BMVSS, its costs are met by its associate, SMF, the CSR arm of the Ashok Minda group. Under this partnership, BMVSS has received an annual funding of Rs 60 lakh since 2016.
Since this was the first time that such a free camp was held in Jammu & Kashmir, it enabled people from Hathlanga, Gagar Hill, Paro, Charunda, Uri, Tangdhar, Kupwada, Bandipura, Tithwal, Handwara, Pattan, Gulmarg and many other remote villages of border areas to register.
A husband and wife, who had both lost their limbs in a landmine explosion, were among the first to register. This couple travelled over 150 kilometres from their village Sahoora, situated along the Line of Control, to the camp when they realised that there was a chance they could walk again.
They didn’t want to lose this opportunity since the lack of financial resources and remoteness of their village had stymied efforts to seek help. Thanks to the Jaipur Foot, their dream to walk again came true.
In fact, the camp received such an overwhelming response that the number of fitments had to be increased from 250 to 274. This is also perhaps because BMVSS-SMF camps provide a comprehensive end-to-end support in limb fitment. So, depending on the nature and degree of the disability, it also provides caliper fitments, walkers, elbow crutches, sticks, etc.
With the creation of the Jaipur Knee, a prosthetic knee joint developed in collaboration between a team of Stanford University students and BMVSS, there is now hope for those needing knee replacements. The Stanford-Jaipur Knee, as it is popularly known, is locally manufactured in India and has been hailed as one of the top 50 best inventions by Time Magazine.
One of the most remarkable achievements in the Jaipur Foot’s 50-year journey is it’s connect to people across the world. It has emerged as a symbol of Indian humanitarian assistance in Africa, Asia and Latin America. War ravaged Afghanistan has the world’s largest number of amputees because of landmines and the 1,000 prosthetic limbs it received from India has cemented bilateral relations.
The Government has deepened diplomatic ties by holding training camps for technicians from Asian, African and Latin American countries under its Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme at the BMVSS headquarters in Jaipur.
Not only has it earned India goodwill, globally, but it has also become a case study in South-South cooperation. Earlier this year in May, an exhibition on the Jaipur Foot was organised at the United Nations headquarters in New York by the Indian mission to highlight its contribution in giving people with disabilities a second chance at life.
Even back home, the Jaipur Foot is helping build bridges between the Armed Forces and the people of Jammu & Kashmir, one happy step at a time.
(The writer is a senior journalist)
Writer: Swapna Majumdar
Courtesy: The Pioneer