A Step Ahead

It’s a difficult life for landmine victims, but one man hopes he can help alleviate their suffering. Tasavur Mushtaq reports on one individual’s crusade for those who have lost their limbs.

Joginder Singh busy working in his workshop. KL Image

He has been a witness to the miseries of people living around the LoC, and that instilled a desire to do something. He was already a teacher, but he wanted to serve society in ways beyond his teaching profession. And so Joginder Singh established a charitable trust to help people especially those who have lost limbs in accidents, particularly landmine explosions that are a frequent occurrence at the LoC.

After his family settled in Poonch at the time of partition in 1947, Singh studied Zoology and became a junior college teacher. Serving the border areas, he could see the hardships that people around LoC are facing. The day he attained superannuation, Singh set up a charitable trust, Pritam Spiritual Foundation.

The pain of losing limbs is not alien to Singh, his father, Pritam Singh, a soldier of Bengal Sappers had lost a limb in Burma during World War II. Pritam Charitable Trust, however, was named after Brigadier Pritam Singh who has been officially credited for having saved Poonch during the first Indo-Pak war over Kashmir in 1948.

Singh offers a basic technique of managing the disabled in his office. He has preserved all the locally managed artificial limbs which people were using before the arrival of Jaipur Foot in the 1980s that Singh’s trust helped enter J&K on a large scale. “People would create hollow plastic legs that they would tie with leather ropes and wear or simply they would get two pieces of wood and try to create a leg that they would wear for movement,” Singh said. Terming the alternatives used by people as cruel, he said, “There were many individuals who would die of the infection eventually.”

Singh has done extensive study in Poonch on landmine victims. Singh says every time there was conflict, new mines were sowed. “Actually the entire LoC is mined from both sides. “Mines were sowed in 1947, 1962, 1965, 1971, 1971 and then in 1990. In fact, during Operation Parakarm minefields descended down the peaks into the plains though these were removed later.”

Poonch accounts for 62 per cent of the total victims of the LoC landmines in the state, according to his surveys. “Every year, Poonch alone adds up around five cases,” he said. “Then there are cases from road accidents, IED explosions and the earthquake.”

Singh is witness to the army actually fencing mined areas and fixing the danger signboards. But then mines move around, they slide especially if planted on slopes. Some of them land in the fields where they get their victims, he says. Initially, Pritam Charitable Trust took a group of landmine victims to Jaipur in order to get them artificial limbs.

After the program’s success, the trust organized camps and brought experts from outside the state to do measurements and manufacture limbs on the spot. In last few years, the trust carried out some camps in Kashmir where a number of people got artificial limbs. So far, Singh said the trust has provided artificial limbs to 3415 individuals, in addition to repairing 707 artificial limbs that were damaged in use at the Raja Moti Singh Limb Centre. The centre that came up under 93-Infantry Brigade’s Operation Sadhbavna project was inaugurated by Maj Gen V K Dutta on August 17, 2005.

The trust has recently started other activities as well. It organized camps that carried out 1427 cataract operations, in addition to solemnizing marriages of the orphans from underprivileged sectors of society in last few years. Select boys and girls who survive limb losses are getting scholarships to sustain their education.

Singh claimed the government is indifferent to plight of affected people. “We have been seeking a hike of Rs 200 in the Rs 300 monthly stipend to these victims but the government seems uninterested.”

That is not the only thing Singh is fighting for.  When landmine victims are operated upon, doctors usually opt for ankle foot amputation (AFA).

“But the AFA creates a crisis that it requires a special artificial limb that usually takes three months to manufacture,” Singh said. “Even after the victim uses it, no one can guarantee that he will not have problems,” Singh said he has been battling with doctors to skip this procedure and see the post-blast scenario and amputate the damaged limb at least two inches up the ankle so that the person is able to move properly.

The facility, Singh said, is for everyone. Last year, a woman from PaK was driven to this centre. She was bedridden. “She went back walking and that was one of the most satisfying moments of my life,” Singh said.

Currently, he is working on a plan with the state administration to have vocational training for these disabled people. “We intend to train the victims between 18-40 years of age in disciplines like honey farming, mushroom farming, cycle repairing and bookbinding so that they start earning for themselves.”

Singh believes the crisis is huge and it would require many people to tackle. “It needs a lot of resources,” he says.

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