A single request changed the lives of thousands of differently-abled drivers when, nearly 25 years ago, Jaipur-based mechanic Rajesh Sharma found his true calling.
Sharma owned a workshop in the city and was known for modifying cars for driving schools. By adding a clutch and a brake for the co-passenger seats, Sharma made driving classes easier for both the learner and the instructor. However, in 1995, when an amputee customer reached out to Sharma to “modify” his car, it was a challenge like no other. Amputation had left the customer unable to control the pedals of his car, making it impossible for him to drive again. Having heard of Sharma’s skills, he requested the mechanic to shift both the accelerator and brake closer together. Doing so would allow him to control his car once again, this time with just one leg. And Sharma obliged.
“That person was my sole inspiration to change the direction of my work,” he told The Better India. Since then, there has been no looking back for this Jaipur techie. “In 1998, under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJU), I started modifying the cars on a larger scale. Up until then I had customized just one car but was fiercely passionate about continuing the cause,” he recalled. By 2019, Sharma alone had modified over 3,000 such cars.
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In a country where over 20 percent of the population is restricted by movement-related disabilities, the lack of provisions that cater to their needs is severe. “Mobility is a basic need and those who are disabled have a right to drive,” Nekram Upadhyay, Head of Assistive Technology Services, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, Delhi, told The Hindu. However, not every service centre in India is qualified or open to adhering to such modifications. There is a pressing need to standardise a motor/automobile that fits the bill. “While it’s encouraging to have quite a few devices that address the issue, there’s a need for a government-approved and standardised mechanism/product that can ensure a safe and snag-free drive,” Upadhyay further added.
It’s people like Rajesh Sharma who are bringing comfort and convenience into the lives of the differently-abled, encouraging them to be independent.
Home-bred innovation - A step to empower differently-abled persons! Rajesh Sharma, a mechanic based in Jaipur has modified 3000 plus cars .Driving is no more a distant dream for the differently-abled with the option of hand-control systems and auto clutch. #MakeInIndia pic.twitter.com/L2QpwX4aYF
— 🇮🇳Amit Gupta🇮🇳 Yoga,Vegetarian & Meditation. (@amitanjuaarush) March 25, 2019
Sharma’s services are not only limited to Jaipur. Understanding that commuting is not nearly as accessible to his customers, the mechanic provides door-to-door service regardless of the city. Taking into consideration his clients’ needs - most of them have lower-limb disabilities - he works on their cars accordingly. His general approach is to modify the design in such a way that the driver can operate the accelerator, brake, and clutch just by using their hands. From the humble Nano to an expensive Mercedes, Sharma has modified them all.
This Jaipur Techie Has Modified 3000+ Cars to Help People with Disabilities Drive
“I have modified everything from a Nano to a Mercedes. The car doesn’t matter to me — what matters is the person driving it,” says the National Award winner, Rajesh Sharma.https://t.co/Sy8QDla85n
— Amit Paranjape (@aparanjape) March 31, 2019
His most memorable work, however, is for ex-army personnel, Delhi’s Navin Gulia. “He is paralyzed from the neck down and doesn’t have the firmest grip in his hands. But is he also an adventure enthusiast,” Sharma informed TBI. So far, he has modified three cars for Gulia, one of them being a manual-geared vehicle, the levers of which are to be controlled by the hand rather than legs.
For his remarkable work, Sharma was conferred with the Jaipur Samahoran award in 1998, the National Award for the Empowerment of Person with Disabilities in 2016, and the Rajasthan State Award for the Empowering of Person with Disabilities in 2017.
Now joined by his son, an engineer, at his Anand Garage in Jaipur to carry on the initiative, Sharma continues to be unstoppable. And so do his customers.