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People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do it. Vikram Agnihotri exemplifies this belief in spirit and character. After losing both his limbs, he trained himself in the deft use of his legs to help him do everything that a fully-abled individual could.
The tragic accident
In June 1977, Vikram and his brother were playing at the terrace of his relative along with a few other children. All of them were swinging over a guard wire as if it was some swing when they suddenly lost balance. It was at that moment when Vikram came in contact with a high-tension 11KV wire. The shock was too extreme for the hands of a tender six-and-a-half-year-old and ended up burning them. His parents who were sitting inside rushed him to the hospital. The doctors tried for three months to save his hands, but the gangrene had started setting in and there was a risk of it spreading throughout the body. The doctors decided to cut both his arms to prevent the spread and save his life. Thus, a happy-go-lucky 7-year-old became resigned to living his life as an amputee.
Vikram recalls that his parents never shed a tear in front of him lest it weakens him and breaks his spirit. His family, especially his mother, became his pillar of strength.
She made him realize that there was nothing he could not do. She bought him cursive writing books and taught him to write with his feet. When he felt comfortable writing with his legs, his parents decided to enroll him in a normal school and not a special school. But he was denied admission because of his handicap. His parents fought back with the school authorities saying, ‘Vikram doesn’t have hands, but he has a mind!’ Finally, a school agreed to enroll him, and he did not disappoint. He was able to keep up with the class and scored well. Not wanting him to miss out on any extra-curricular activities, his parents enrolled him in swimming classes with children his age and Vikram excelled at that too.
Vikram’s father was an IPS officer and education was always a priority in the Agnihotri household. Upon completing his M.A. in Economics, Vikram decided to pursue an MBA degree. Even though Vikram cleared the IIM Common Entrance Test (CAT) twice, he failed to clear the interviews due to his disability. Given his determination and a never-say-die attitude, Vikram started preparing for the UPSC exams. However, the UPSC rules barred people with disabilities from appearing for ‘A’ grade services due to which Vikram had to drop that course. At the age of 23, Vikram got into Business and started his own gas agency in 1993 at the age of 23.
Love for driving
Vikram loved watching Formula 1 races and imagined himself as Michael Schumacher. A friend upon learning of his desire, allowed him to use his car and even taught him to drive. His friend handled the clutch to change gears while Vikram used his right foot for steering and the left foot on the brake and accelerator. After practicing for a few months, Vikram approached the RTO for a license, but was told, ‘No person with a disability has ever been issued a license before.’ Despite passing all his driving tests, he got a letter that read, ‘You failed the test as you can’t indicate with your hand.’ Though he was frustrated, he did not give up. Vikram first researched the Motor Vehicles Act and its provisions for people with disabilities. Surprisingly, the law did not bar people with disabilities from driving in clear words and was open to interpretations. He met traffic commissioners and ministers to plead his case and forced them to hear him out. Finally, a committee was formed and after 15 months, a provision was made in the Motor Vehicles Act to allow people with disabilities to drive. Vikram’s happiest moment came when he got a call from the RTO congratulating him on getting a permanent license. That decision made Vikram Agnihotri, 51, India’s first bilateral upper-limb amputee to avail permanent driving license. He celebrated by taking his friends and family on a drive that day. Vikram’s efforts resulted in 18 people with disabilities having received their driving licenses so far.
Not wanting to be content with just this, Vikram decided to pursue his dream of professional car racing and began participating in car rallies. After securing the first position in the Malwa Adventure Rally, he got himself a ticket to the Desert Storm Motor Rally in India. He went on to become the first differently-abled person to participate in it and ended up finishing as the 2nd runner-up in the race.
Giving back to the society
Vikram never let his disability shape who he is and instead defined his own goals and conquered them. He founded the Vital Spark Welfare Society, an organization that empowers people with disabilities and offers skill development programs for them in sports, education, and experience-based training in daily activities. He also started a non-profit organization called ‘Winners in Life’ and has conducted various motivational talks as a part of it. Besides, he is working as a zonal committee member at the Rehabilitation Council of India.
Being actively involved in sports such as football and swimming, Vikram next wants to start a sports Academy in Indore. “I want the physically challenged to know that there are tons of things they can do”, he said. The project is still pending though due to Covid.
Vikram believes that having expectations from oneself can do a lot of good. Not content with resting on his many achievements, Vikram is learning aero-modelling and aims to take up painting or cooking in the future. Vikram recalls an incident a few years ago when a man requested a drive from him. He said, ‘I was going to commit suicide until I learnt about you. But I will fight again. I came here to thank you!’. Vikram recalls that to be one of the most touching moments of his life and feels fortunate to be able to inspire someone like that.
To those losing hope in life and looking to him for advice, Vikram tells them what his mother always told him, ‘Disability is a state of mind. Instill a drive in yourself if you want to succeed.”
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