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A Famously Simple Foot's Complicated Story

February 2008
A Famously Simple Foot's Complicated Story

The Jaipur Foot, a widely used prosthetic limb designed for the common man, has been praised for its ingenious simplicity. The story behind its creation, though, is not so simple. Devendra Raj Mehta, who won a Silicon Valley-based award for it in 2007, is the person most responsible for the production and distribution of the Jaipur Foot, which has improved the lives of many unfortunate people in India and beyond. This yearly Tech Museum Award is given for innovative products that benefit humanity. “Amputees who visit Mehta’s clinics or mobile workshops receive their new limbs at no cost, and can return to improved lives in just a day or two,” reads the citation. But Mehta is not the inventor. His nonprofit organization (BMVSS) declares that the idea was conceived by Ram Chandra Sharma (aka Masterji), a semi-literate sculptor “who designed and developed the limb.” Intriguingly, there is no mention of P. K. Sethi, a surgeon who established the first orthopedic department in Rajasthan and played a crucial role in the invention and development of the Jaipur Foot, even though Sharma had come up with the suggestion.

Sethi, a winner of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for his work, died just last month. Sharma maintains his connection to the Jaipur Foot through the work he does for BMVSS in Rajasthan. Mehta, a former IAS officer, first got interested when he was recovering from a serious road accident. A distinctive feature of this prosthetic limb, besides the low cost, is that it can be used without a shoe. Distributed widely in war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, the Jaipur Foot has even been featured on the silver screen. In Nache Mayuri, a Hindi film from the ‘80s, Sudha Chandran used it while performing a dance.

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