By Arul Louis
New York, April 5 (IANS) Humanitarian work is an important element of India’s diplomacy, although it is often overshadowed by its strategic and defence aspects, according to India’s Ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla.
Humanitarian assistance plays an important role in India’s diplomatic outreach to other countries, he said on Thursday here at a seminar on “India for Humanity”, held as part of the year-long commemoration of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary.
The seminar was centred on the example of the ‘Jaipur Foot’ in promoting the humanitarian element of Indian diplomacy through a collaboration of the External Affairs Ministry and an NGO behind the prostheses.
The Jaipur Foot prostheses, which some have called a “marvel of Gandhian engineering” for their simplicity yet effectiveness, were developed in the Rajasthan state capital by the Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti, which continues to finance their manufacture and distribution.
“Jaipur Foot extends Gandhi’s message of compassion”, Shringla said referring to the organisaton’s work of providing free prosthetic limbs to victims around the world.
Diplomats from Bangladesh and Malawi acknowledged the Jaipur Foot’s humanitarian work in their countries and elsewhere.
Malawi’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Lot Dzonzi, said that while celebrating Gandhi, “one of the greatest human beings”, it is fitting to recall that “Jaipur Foot is the arm that India extended to my country to touch 500 people”.
It has changed the lives of those who came crawling or stumbling with canes to the camps but walked out straight, he said.
Bangladesh Consul General Sadia Faizunnesa said that the Jaipur Foot organisation is changing the lives of underprivileged people in her country.
India as a neighbour, she said, is also giving her country humanitarian help with the problem of Myanmar refugees.
Shringla said that India had flown plane-loads of aid packages and other supplies for families of Rohingya refugees sheltering in Bangladesh and was setting up a hospital for them.
He recalled that after the end of the Sri Lanka conflict, India had sent teams to defuse and remove mines planted there and held camps for those who had lost their feet or legs to be fitted with Jaipur Foot prostheses.
The chairman of Jaipur Foot USA, Prem Bhandari said that 1.8 million people around the world have benefited from the prostheses programmes since 1975, and 73 camps have been held in 20 countries to help people regain their mobility.
During the year of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, Jaipur Foot will be holding 12 international camps, he said.
Five of them have already been held in Nepal, Vietnam, Myanmar, Iraq and Malawi, and three are underway in Tanzania, Egypt and Senegal, he said.
Mahatma Gandhi’s great-great-grandson Paritosh Prasad said that there was no better way of demonstrating his lessons of compassion than the work of Jaipur Foot organisation.
India’s Consul-General Sandeep Chakravorty said that Jaipur Foot “was India’s only international brand” because it is geographically distributed so widely and it brings together diplomacy and philanthropy.
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)