In the year 1969, the then collector of Jaisalmer, Devendra Raj Mehta met with a fatal accident in Pokhran. His femur splintered into 43 pieces and doctors were not sure if he would even survive. God had other plans though. After five months of hospitalisation, while the surgeons contemplated amputation, he slowly started recovering and was asked to go to America for further treatment. “What about those who can’t afford a trip to America?” he asked himself and that was how Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti (BMVSS), an organisation conceived with the aim of helping economically backward people overcome their disabilities, was born.
Conception of Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti
BMVSS was started in 1975 with a noble aim. “Not only did we want to ensure physical rehabilitation of the disabled, we also wanted to restore their social and economic status in society,” he explains. “It was important to get back their mobility but it was equally important to bring back their self-respect and help them return to a life of economic productivity.”
The organisation thus decided that its mission would be to provide free artificial limbs, calipers and other forms of physical aid to as many disabled people as possible, both in India and abroad.
Devendra was inspired by Nobel laureate Dr Albert Schweitzer who had said, “Let us join the fraternity of those who bear the mark of pain.” That really stirred something inside me,” he says, “I had to do something about it”.
The Jaipur foot
The Jaipur foot was born about seven years before BMVSS came into being at the Jaipur Sawai Man Singh Hospital. It is basically a rubber-based prosthetic leg for those who have suffered under-knee amputations. Designed in Jaipur, it is fitted free of cost by Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti. “The Jaipur foot offers a range of movements that one conceives impossible when fitted with artificial limbs,” Devendra explains. It enables an amputee to walk, run, climb, squat, sit cross-legged and perform daily activities with absolute ease and comfort. The performance of Jaipur foot has been so amazing that its use has transcended geographical and regional boundaries making it the most used prosthetic foot in the world.
Today, BMVSS is providing free physical aid to patients who live below the poverty line, without any discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, colour, religion or geographical location. Their approach is patient-centric and sensitive. Apart from providing free physical aid, BMVSS also provides vocational training to young amputees on a selective basis. This assists them with self-employment and helps them regain their dignity. BMVSS has far reaching programmes and rehabilitation camps so that they can reach the masses living even in remote areas. Based in Jaipur, it has 22 satellite centers spread all across India from Srinagar to Chennai and Guwahati to Ahmedabad. Metros like Delhi, Pune, Mumbai, Bengaluru etc also have BMVSS limb fitment centers.
Service with science
Besides philanthropic measures to help those below the poverty line, BMVSS is also making serious efforts on the research and development of artificial limbs. It has partnered with leading institutions in India and abroad, and is making constant endeavours to improve the quality of artificial limbs and simultaneously reduce their cost. The organisation has catered for an in-house R&D division to support this agenda.
BMVSS has established partnerships with many reputed institutions like Stanford University California, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, Virginia Tech University, Dow India, IITs, ISRO etc .
Struggles, challenges and success stories
“As of now, our struggle is limited to funding. Government funding isn’t enough and we thrive on the donations made by philanthropists and rich patients,” Devendra says.
On being asked what the success stories are, he highlights the alleviation of physical discomfort, restoration of personal dignity and achievement of economic independence by patients. “These are the real success stories,” he says. Indian actor and dancer Sudha Chandran, who lost her leg in an accident, was fitted with the Jaipur Foot and continued her career as a dancer and an actor is a perfect example.
Awards and acknowledgements
Many awards have been given to the organisation and its founder. The Government of India honoured him with the Padma Bhushan in 2008. BMVSS has also been conferred with the National Award for the best institution working in the field of rehabilitation of the disabled in 1998 and the National Award for being the best institution for the handicapped in 1982.
Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti (BMVSS) is the world’s largest organisation serving the disabled. Since its inception in 1975, it has touched the lives of more than 1.45 million amputees and polio patients in India and abroad.
On being asked what message he wants to give the masses, DR Mehta says, “Treat the suffering of others as your own and help them. The joy that you will experience is unmatched and fulfilling.”