Founder and chief patron of the Mahavir Viklang Sewa Samiti, DR Mehta, is a man rightly lauded for bringing free prosthetic limbs to the poor and destitute of India and elsewhere. A former IAS officer of impeccable credentials, it’s hard to imagine why a man synonymous with the famous ‘Jaipur Foot’ would be striving to drag his 33 year old organisation into the gutter – yet this is precisely what seems to have happened.
The day after eight people people from Bhopal — 3 disabled children, 2 contaminated-water affected children, and their parents and caretakers – attended a Jaipur Foot camp in Chennai to politely request its organisers reconsider their acceptance of R1 crore of Dow India’s money (see report below), the honourable Mr. Mehta insisted on describing them as “despicable, perverse people”, repeating the phrase thrice in case any of the gathered press had missed it the first two times.
Mr Mehta has much to be disgusted about, having chosen to associate his organisation with a corporation infamous for a list of crimes so long that it is dizzying to read their brief descriptions. To aim that disgust at a community of Dow’s victims seems to lack self-awareness and, dare we say it, a sense of charity. Perhaps not all is at it seems with Mr Mehta after all. ed.
DR Mehta, who while unable to claim the credit for having invented Jaipur Foot, can now lay claim to the recently diagnosed ‘Jaipur-Foot-in-mouth’ disease…
December 16, 2008
Report by Shweta
Dow India buys the credit for the Chennai ‘Jaipur Foot’ camp for a mere (to Dow) R1 crore
We walked in without a problem. The “We” consisted of 14-year old Sarita, 15-year old Rafat, Suraj (a paraplegic), Sajid and Vikas (both of whom suffer from different disabilities), Meera, the children’s parents, students and teachers from Vidyasagar school for disabled children in Chennai, and Roshan and Rupesh from Youth for Social Change. The Vidyasagar kids were on wheelchairs, so we were indistinguishable from the kids who were visiting the camp. The Bhopali kids were following us. We had already learnt that Venkat was stopped from entering by Group 4 Security folks, when he tried going in as a journalist (Venkat was met by Mahathi Parshuram, Dow India’s public affairs manager, who said that no media had been sent invitations).
Bhopalis wait to go in
Once in, we asked for Mohan Jain who runs the Adinath Jain Trust, which partners with Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayog Samiti of Jaipur foot fame. BMVSS is the organisation that received Rs. 1 crore from Dow India’s CSR coffers. The place was filled with about 20-odd Dow employees who were volunteering. We were immediately confronted by Mahathi, the public affairs person. She wanted to know where we were from. At the mention of the Bhopal word, she disappeared into a huddle. For 10 minutes after the B word was uttered, there was no sign of our hosts. Finally, we were allowed to speak to Mohan Jain. All of us stood in a semi-circle, and the Dow employees were all clustered watching us. We were not wearing anything special — no bandannas, no nothing. But all eyes were on us. The New Indian Express photographer took a picture, but was coerced into deleting it.
Mohan Jain seemed pretty hostile and bristly initially. 14-year old Sarita and Meera did most of the talking and began explaining why we were here. Mohan Jain’s protests that they were doing very important and good work gradually weakened into feeble whispers with Sarita’s compassionate lecturing. When Meera opened the album of photographs, there was a palpable hush. Poor Mr. Jain. I don’t think he knew anything about Dow. “I’m merely the Sanchalak (the organiser). I got instructions from Jaipur and I put together this 5-day camp,” he ably ducked in defense. “In any case, we can’t abandon the camp now. We’ll complete it for the next three days, and we’ll keep this in mind for later,” he said.
When Sarita met Mohan Jain…
Then Mr. Jain landed on a brainwave. “Ninety percent of our money comes from small donors, who give Rs. 50 and Rs. 100. How can we ascertain if this money is tainted or not?” he asked triumphantly. To this, Sarita replied: “We’re not talking about fifties and hundreds. When you get Rs. 1 crore, shouldn’t it occur to you to ascertain the antecedents of the donor?”
Jain changed tack. “You say you’ve been suffering in Bhopal for 24 years. Why don’t you leave the place and go somewhere else?” Aaah. That’s Question No. 3 in the Bhopalis’ Frequently Asked Questions list. The answer to that is: “Where will we go? Why should we go?”
Didn’t work. This 14-year old girl was too smart. Let’s try the chocolote route. “We will even organise a similar camp in Bhopal,” Mr. Jain suggested. That did it. Little Ms. Sarita was angry now. “I don’t think that would be a good idea. If you so much as step into Bhopal with Dow’s money, we will oppose you straight on,” Sarita bluntly told him.
And then, the final blow. Mr. Jain had no clue what a PU is. Sarita says PU. She doesn’t say polyurethane, which is the plastic that Dow manufactures, that Dow in all its sincere-do-good-mood offered to the Jaipur foot guys as a replacement for the vulcanised rubber that is currently being used. What’s wrong with rubber for the artificial limbs? Nothing really. But when Dow gives Rs. 1 crore, as a manufacturer of polyurethane, it does need to convince CSR-skeptical shareholders that charity is good for business, especially when charity involves spreading more of your product.
Anyway, the final blow, as I was saying — “Mr. Jain, did you know that the PU limbs when afire will release the same gases that were released in Bhopal in 1984?” Mr. Jain did not know. Mr. Jain’s face was a sight. “Are you giving these children life or death?” asked one of the kids.
Mr. Jain was visibly shaken. Kept muttering that “Aage se hum dhyan denge” (We’ll pay more attention to this in the future.”)
Mr. Jain seemed to suggest that he approaches all decisions on the basis of evidence. Even in this case, he said he would need evidence from us to back our claims. After all, how is he to believe all the stuff that is being told about Dow?
“How about reading a newspaper, maybe?”
In any case, Mr. Jain realised that this was not going as planned. The children assured him that they appreciate the work that is being done, and that it was their intent merely to ensure that this good work is not tainted by bloody-money from corporations like Dow. Jain was apprehensive about the media. He politely requested the kids to not release this to the media. “I knew nothing about Dow and its history. Don’t let this get out in the media. Others will not come tomorrow then,” he said.
But life’s all about informed choice, right?
Dump Dow, Bhopal kids tell ngo (Indian Express report)