Starweek Magazine

Following the footsteps of a 70-year friendship

Ida Anita Q. del Mundo - The Philippine Star
Following the footsteps of a 70-year friendship
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets some recipients of the Jaipur Foot during a visit in 2017.

MANILA, Philippines —  This is a busy year for the Indian Embassy in the Philippines, as they prepare several celebrations and activities for their Independence Day this month, the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, as well as the 70th year of Filipino-Indian diplomatic relations.

In light of the festivities, the “India for Humanity” initiative was launched in October last year. “This perpetuates the activities which we are doing, the humanitarian charity work through different organizations,” says Manisha Swami, first secretary of the Embassy of India in the Philippines. “It’s for the larger world. It’s not confined to India, it’s for all those who are in need.”

As part of the initiative, the Indian government has been providing the Jaipur Foot for free for those in need across the globe. The Jaipur Foot is a prosthetic limb developed in the late 1960s by craftsman Ram Chander Sharma and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Pramod Karan Sethi from Jaipur in Rajasthan. Made of rubber, the prosthetic is durable and inexpensive.

Swami says, it was inspired by the necessity to remove one’s shoes in the Indian culture. At that time, most prosthetics had a built-in shoe. “In India, you don’t wear shoes in your home. You have to remove them. When you go to the temple or any sacred place, you have to remove your footwear,” Swami explains.


PM Modi meets a young amputee.

“They conceptualized this idea of providing the artificial limb but with mobility, with flexibility,” says Swami. “They thought of making it so light, mobile, flexible. You can jump, bicycle, you can climb trees, you can sit in a squat position. It’s very important for a person who has lost his limb to feel that he has something which he had previously.”

The revolutionary prosthetic was hailed by Time Magazine as one of the 50 best inventions of the 20th century. In 1981, Sethi received the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for community leadership.

The non-government organization Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti, whose affiliate is the Mahaveer Philippine Foundation, has been bringing the Jaipur Foot to those in need throughout the world.

In the Philippines, the Mahaveer Foundation has been serving the Filipinos through centers in the Philippine Orthopedic Center, the Philippine General Hospital and in Zamboanga. It was former Manila mayor Ramon Bagatsing who was instrumental in getting the Mahaveer Foundation established in the Philippines, says Swami. He himself was an amputee, surviving the Plaza Miranda bombing in 1971.

Since the establishment of the Mahaveer Philippine Foundation, some 13,000 amputees in the country have received the Jaipur Foot.

About 757 amputees were beneficiaries of the Jaipur Foot in 2017 alone. Most recently, 40 soldiers who lost their limbs in the Marawi siege were fitted with the prosthetic.

Swami says, prime minister Narendra Modi took time to visit the foundation and some of its beneficiaries amid his busy schedule when he was in the Philippines to attend the ASEAN Summit in 2017.

“He met the soldiers and other amputees who wore the limb. He also announced $200,000 assistance to the foundation for equipment and prosthetic limbs,” says Swami.

During his visit, Modi met one of the youngest recipients of the Jaipur foot and was touched when the young boy said he dreamt of becoming a policeman one day. “With the flexibility and mobility of the Jaipur foot, you have that option,” Swami says on making the boy’s ambition possible.

As Swami lists the activities in the pipeline in line with the various celebrations this year – a food festival, film festival, staging of the Ramayana and many more – she says she hopes that Filipinos will realize how strong the relationship is between the two countries.

“We have good bilateral relations,” Swami says. “We are here to sustain the momentum of our relations. We want to keep that momentum going, apart from the political side, in terms of cuisine, culture, initiatives and outreach.

As the Jaipur foot proves, the Philippines and India have been working hand in hand – step by step – for years, and will continue to do so in the years to come.

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