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FIFTH MAHAVEER AWARDS – 1999
 
1. MRS. MANEKA GANDHI
Notwithstanding the strict injunctions, against exploitation of the weak by the physically strong, by almost all the world religions, humanity has been exploiting animals and birds for satisfying their own needs and desires, be it for food or for enjoyment, taking the form of hunting of animals or taking part in nauseating events such as bull fighting or bull baiting. In fact even killing of animals for food is rarely done with mercy or consideration; the animals are tortured and allowed to die slowly and painfully. Even the so called domestic pets such as the loyal dogs are rarely taken good care of. In most of the cases, they are at best tolerated for their use in guarding one's person or property.
 
 
 
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It is in this context, that the role played by Mrs.Maneka Gandhi assumes greater significance. She is one of those rare people who have real empathy for all God's living creatures specially those which cannot protect themselves against the villainy of what is euphemistically known as the superior race. For over two decades now, Mrs.Gandhi has played a dynamic role in designing and implementing measures for the protection of animals, birds and other living creatures such as reptiles. Be it a hospital for taking exclusive care of birds, or a Ghousala or a Pinjarapol or a Kennel for the dogs, she is finding ways of improving their structuring and contents with an eye on the ultimate beneficiary. Over this period she has been carrying on a running fight with official bodies seeking greater consideration in sterilising stray animals and in destroying rabid ones. She has found a home for a large number of unwanted pets and is helping in building hospitals and animal sanctuaries to take care of animals at places where none exist so far. She has agitated valiantly against cruel practices amounting to torture of animals and birds. She has exploded a large number of myths such as the one that states that snakes possess nagamani. Her large number of books and her T.V. shows focusing on animal welfare continue to attract millions of readers and viewers. She is also the Chairperson of the "People for Animals" movement whose sole aim is to provide for the well being of all living creatures.
 
She has been a staunch supporter of vegetarianism mainly because non-vegetarianism involves destruction of animals even if the means adopted for slaughtering them are the most merciful. Her argument is that one section of God's creatures can ill afford to kill another section belonging to the same category for their personal pleasure. She has also disproved a large number of reasons usually attributed by non-vegetarians in support of meat eating by pointing out that there are equally nutrient vegetarian alternatives available to take care of our needs for growth.
 
Even though the laws of the country provide for stringent punishment for violation of the dignity of the animals by overloading them or ill treating them otherwise, cruelty to animals in one form or another is still widespread mainly because of the ignorance of the Law Enforcement Agencies, particularly at the grassroot level, of the provisions of these laws. She has made a dent in this area of ignorance by arranging for a compilation of all laws relating to animal welfare. She is also chairing a number of committees engaged in the work relating to animal welfare, providing that spark which is so necessary to ignite the noble but dormant instincts in a large number of individuals and organisations. Her dynamic leadership in this area has resulted in the spread of public awareness of the long neglected need for protection of animals and birds which as part of the nation's valuable inheritance, contribute to its environmental balance. All these only go to show that even a single candle is enough to light a million lamps, if there is even a single individual who is willing to go round lighting these lamps. This is the backdrop against which the Bhagwan Mahaveer Foundation has chosen her for the Mahaveer Award'99 for Excellence in Human Endeavour in the field of Non-violence and Vegetarianism. The country particularly the animal kingdom owes Mrs.Gandhi a huge bouquet for her emotional support, dynamic leadership and the effective results she has achieved in promoting their welfare notwithstanding her other more demanding and urgent preoccupations Bhagwan Mahaveer Foundation joins the millions of Indians interested in animal welfare in congratulating Mrs.Maneka Gandhi for getting the Mahaveer Award'99 for Non-violence and Vegetarianism.
 

2. DR. G. VENKATASWAMY

Till recently people were resigned to accept, whatever in their view fate had in store for them. These include millions of our countrymen who are born blind or became blind by accident or neglect or were making good with bare minimum vision. They thought that this was God's way of punishing them for their sins in their previous births. But over the years, people have started realising that if one believes in a divinity which is kind and considerate, obviously such a divine being would not believe in punishing a large chunk of humanity by depriving them of one of the basic human needs, namely vision. They also realised that the means of restoring or atleast improving vision did exist in certain parts of the world obviously provided by the same Almighty and were available to all its children. Once this became general knowledge coming up of an institution to assist the people in curing them of their blindness or defective vision was just one step ahead. A large number of individuals and institutions started taking the lead in setting up hospitals for treatment of diseases connected with the eye.

 
One of the few institutions which have come up in Tamil Nadu in this field, is the Aravind Eye Hospital & Post-Graduate Institute of Ophthalmology. From a modest beginning in 1976 the institution has developed into what it is today, namely a full fledged Eye Hospital and a Post-Graduate Institute of Ophthalmology. The Hospital provides comprehensive services relating to Eye treatment including surgery and over 90 lakhs of people have been so far benefited by these services during the last two decades. The Hospital has developed a number of institutions providing related facilities such as the manufacture of intra-ocular lenses pharmaceuticals etc. The Aravind Medical Research Foundation is also involved in basic clinic and operation research in collaboration with leading international institutions.

Most of these services are provided by the Hospital at reasonable costs. What is equally relevant is that people who are relatively well off are able to get themselves cured either through operation or by purchase of spectacles at their own cost. But as matters stand today, almost 2/3rd of the population are under the poverty line which does not permit them to have recourse to any effective treatment. It is in this context that the services rendered by the Aravind Eye Hospital & Post Graduate Institute of Ophthalmology assumes significance. A large percentage of the patients treated by the Hospital are below the poverty line and the treatment provided to them is entirely free of cost.

As no vehicle can move without a prime mover providing the motive force, no institution can develop into a successful one, i.e. an effective one in the absence of a leader capable of pulling and where necessary pushing it in the desired direction. Dr.G.Venkataswamy the Founder of the institution has provided this type of leadership to the Hospital for over two decades and has been almost single handedly responsible for the growth of the institution. The institution has branched out all over Tamil Nadu with Branches at Madurai, Coimbatore, Tirunelveli and Theni. It has become virtually a household name in Tamil Nadu for its quality treatment with emphasis on use of the latest techniques of treatment and surgery.

Deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhiji and Shri Aurobindo, Dr Venkataswamy realised early in life that the best way to serve our nation was to do the best in whatever role one is trained for and one need not become a sadhu or a martyr to serve humanity and God. Even though theoretically he retired from active service in 1976 his best was to come during the subsequent years of his life. Though suffering from rheumatoid arthritis from his early years and also weakened by the ravages of time, Dr Venkataswamy set about systematically to set up a comprehensive organisation for providing treatment to millions of our countrymen suffering from eye defects. Though grateful patients revere him virtually as God, he considers himself only as a tool in the hands of God while serving the patients. His goal is to spread the hope of relief from pain to every nook and corner of the country.

Bhagwan Mahaveer Foundation is happy in congratulating Dr.G.Venkataswamy for his getting the Mahaveer Award for Excellence in Human Endeavour for the year 1999 in the field Education and Medicine. We fervently hope that the presentation of this Award would stimulate many more individuals and organisations to come forth to serve the public.

We are sure that Dr. Venkataswamy will also welcome the competition!

3. BHAGWAN MAHAVEER VIKLANG SAHAYATA SAMITI

Our ancient lores are full of stories of handicapped men ruling kingdoms and emerging victorious in wars even ending up marrying beautiful princesses notwithstanding their handicaps, be it a lost arm or a leg. But these successes even if they were true, were confined to very few. Virtually the entire handicapped segment of the population continued to suffer indignities, wallow in poverty and kept cursing their maker for their handicaps. The tragedy was greater in cases, when the concerned persons were born with all their limbs in tact but had lost their limbs either in an accident or on account of some illness, such as polio. Having experienced complete freedom of action they felt terribly upset after the loss of these faculties and spent rest of their lives depressed, dejected, and in some cases even resorted to suicide.

 
The representative of Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti, Jaipur, Rajasthan receiving the Fifth Mahaveer Award on behalf of the Samiti for Excellence in the field of Social and Community service from Dr. M. Karunanidhi, Hon'ble Cheif Minister of Tamilnadu at the Annual Mahaveer Awards Day 1999.
 
Even after the development of medical science, access to artificial limbs was costly, taking a lot of time and the limbs were too complicated to use and therefore physically enervating. It is in this background the services provided by Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti assumes considerable significance in the lives of handicapped persons in the country who had lost the use of their legs. The Jaipur Foot designed by the Samiti and produced on a large scale could virtually be deemed to be a miracle for those who had lost their legs either above or below the knees. One of the Foundation's representatives watched with pleasant surprise when a man who has lost his knee walked in to be measured for an artificial limb, watched the limb being made and fitted to the individual and the individual walked away in visible happiness and satisfaction all within a period of about 90 to 100 minutes. People who have been fitted with this device can walk, run, climb a tree or even ride a cycle, let alone a car. All of us are also aware of the famous dancer who has been fitted with this device and has been dancing her way into the hearts of millions of admirers.

The patients and their attendants who visit the institution are treated as honourable guests and not as supplicants and what is more, everything is done with great concern to the sensitivity of the disabled and entirely free of cost. The Samiti has helped over four lakhs of people so far with artificial limbs and has also assisted a number of them in getting rehabilitated in life. It is indeed no coincidence or even accident that the reputation of the Jaipur Foot and the Viklang Samiti is spread not only all over India but has also crossed the oceans of the world and thousands of people have been benefited by Jaipur Foot in a number of countries of the world.

Bhagwan Mahaveer Foundation warmly congratulates the Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti, its founders and its management for their humane dynamic and innovative role in providing relief to millions of handicapped people. They have erased the stigma of disability from the hearts and minds of the handicapped and have made them realise that they too can play a useful role in society and in the nation.


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