Where there's a wheel, there's a way
Vikram Agnihotri, India's first double amputee to get a driving licence, is now helping others like him get into the driver's seat
On September 30, 2016, Vikram Agnihotri became India's first person without hands to be issued a permanent driving licence from the Indore RTO. Agnihotri uses his feet to drive and has since driven over 22,000 km without incident. "From being always dependent on people, today, I'm the designated chauffeur for my parents," he beams.
But, Agnihotri is not one to rest on his laurels. The 50-year-old businessman, who runs a gas agency in Indore, is now assisting other double amputees to get a driving licence. Until now, he has helped 14 people across India get behind the wheel. There are around 20 people on his WhatsApp group who are still in queue. "At the time, news about me was splashed across the media. Thanks to the coverage, people managed to track me down," he says.
However, Agnihotri admits he had it relatively easy because his father is a retired IPS officer, and was able to guide him through the process. Yet, he had to run from pillar to post for two years before the administration finally took notice. "I enrolled for LLB 23 years after completing my higher education in order to understand the Indian laws better. And the reason why I fought so hard was so that it benefits everyone."
According to Agnihotri, one of the challenges in acquiring a licence for the differently-abled lies is the apathy of the Road Transport Authority, who often turn people away verbally. "The officials don't reject in writing because the Motor Vehicle Act 1988 does not specifically bar anyone who is differently-abled from driving. However, applicants don't usually have the wherewithal to challenge this."
For his part, Agnihotri ensures that the people he is helping out are in a position to drive confidently. His role involves assessing their skills, guiding them through the process and helping them with paperwork. As per current guidelines, a differently-abled person is required to pass both the written and practical tests to obtain a driver's licence. "We are also required to undergo a medical test that able-bodied individuals don't," he says. "But, I also tell them that they can't hop across to the RTO and tell authorities to issue them a licence just because they did it for Vikram Agnihotri. Unless I see them drive, I don't help them out because driving involves risk." He has also established a non-profit organisation called Vital Spark Welfare Society, and under the banner of WiL – Winners in Life, he has conducted several motivational training programmes and lectures at schools, colleges and corporate houses.
Currently, he is working on getting a controversial clause in the assessment of applicants removed. "There's a medical examination called Form 1A that talks about health issues. It states that the licence will be issued only if the authorities feel the applicant is "fit" to drive a motor vehicle. Most get stuck at this level." Agnihotri says the pace at which a licence is issued is subjective given the fact that it depends on the RTO and medical officials. "Some are open and disabled-friendly, while others aren't. Despite the apathy, change is brewing. The 14 people who've got their licence are proof."
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