Forty years may sound like a long time for anyone to possibly remember an incident that could have shaped their life. But the incident is still fresh in the mind of Indore, Madhya Pradesh-based Vikram Agnihotri. Not only did it shape his life, but it also made him stronger and independent - a role model for everyone.

Sometime in June 1977, the Agnihotri family was driving together to a family friend’s house. For the two brothers, with their mother, the ride was a long one since the destination was a new developed colony on the outskirts of Raigarh, then part of Madhya Pradesh. In the absence of a reliable phone network in those days, the family reached their destination but found that their hosts were not at home. Then the mother decided to visit another family known to her. As luck would have even they too were unavailable. 

Finally, they landed at the house of someone they barely knew who used to often complain that the mother doesn’t visit their house. The family was pleasantly surprised to see the Agnihotris at their doorstep, and they were warmly received.  Both mothers settled down in the front lawn, and the four kids, including Vikram and his elder brother were playing together.

The new colony and had well laid out houses with enough place for the children to play around. But a number civil projects to be done by the local municipality were still to be completed. One of them was the removal of high-tension, 11,000-Watt transmission wires right above the house. As the kids played, seven-year-old Vikram, knowing little about the dangers of a high-tension cable, accidently came in contact and the unthinkable happened.

Suddenly, there was complete commotion. The skin and bones of his hands were completely charred. He was rushed to a local hospital. Soon, he was shifted to a hospital in Mumbai where he had to spend three months. At the end of the ordeal, despite the medical support and treatment, gangrene began spreading through his hands, and they had to be amputated.

“Not having both hands has never come in my way of going about everyday life and doing my work. In fact, I have tried to live a normal life like anyone else. The reason I can do everything is because of my parents. They encouraged me to do everything,” Vikram proudly says.

Leading a regular life

Medical records say Vikram is 90 per cent disabled. But with his grit and determination, Vikram has been giving life his 100 per cent. He went about everyday jobs adjusting to the reality. In the early days, it required a lot of effort, but with active help from his family, things began falling in place.

During his school years, he got passionate about swimming and football and would never miss an opportunity to go engage in these sports.

Sometime in 1981, Vikram’s father was posted to London for an official assignment. When the family moved to London, Vikram was fortunate to meet several differently-abled people who were living their lives normally. For the determination that he had shown in the period after June 1977, this was just the trigger he needed.

Two years later as the family moved to Germany, a meeting with Eberhard Franz was an eye opener. He had designed a car for the specially-abled and used it for his transport everywhere around. For a man who was born without hands, it turned out to be a memorable meeting and changed the way Vikram had been thinking.

It was during this meeting that the idea of driving a car on his own came for Vikram. The meeting was monumental from the point of view of reinstating the belief that anything is possible and not having hands did not mean that life would come to a standstill.

“Being able to drive is about freedom. That is why I wanted to drive on my own,” says Vikram.

‘I wanted to drive on my own’

Since he was living in the heart of Indore, Vikram never really needed to drive. If he needed to move anywhere, he would always be picked up from home. Things changed in 2014 when the family moved to a new house located at the outskirts of the city. Commuting became a problem as it was out of the way for friends and people to come and pick him up. A game of football, which had become routine for him earlier, was a bit trickier living further away, but it did not dim his passion for the sport.

He was a member of the managing committee of the prestigious Yeshwant Club Indore, and as its football co-ordinator, and had been actively promoting the sport in the city. Apart from football, swimming, aeromodelling and radio-controlled planes occasionally consumed his time.

But there was an important change in the life of Vikram with the move. Every time he had to go to play a game of football or stayed back late in the city to spend time with his friends, someone would have to drive him home. On some occasions, he used to take public transport, something that he was very used to as a kid. While his friends were more than happy to drop him home, he felt that his friends occasionally were being inconvenienced.

As a kid, when the family lived in Europe, he had seen several specially-abled people driving regularly. The idea that had cropped up in his mind in 1985, when he saw Eberhard Franz drive, was now flowering. He had found Eberhard Franz’s efforts commendable and thought of doing the same. However, as he was to soon find out, there was no precedence of a person without hands getting a permanent driving licence in India.

It helped that Vikram had perfected the ability of doing everything himself without help. He had done most of his own work inside the house, but now it was time to do it outside as well. “You have to rewire your brain to do things in a different manner. After that things can move ahead as they should,” Vikram says, explaining how he went about the change.

In May 2015, Vikram got a learner’s licence, but was hoping to get a regular one. He had bought a car, a Maruti Suzuki Celerio AMT, and over the next couple of months, he had become very comfortable driving the car himself. Since he was a pioneer in India in his efforts, he attracted a lot of media attention.

India’s Motor Vehicles Act was passed in 1988, which today regulates the policy for all vehicles on Indian roads. It does not specifically state that anyone without hands can drive a car. Nor does it bar anyone who is specially-abled from getting a driving licence. After he got comfortable driving the car, Vikram approached the local motor licencing authority to upgrade his driving licence to a regular one. Without taking his driving test, one of the officials told him that he could not use the indicator and that was a worry. Hence, he was deemed a risk to other people on the road and could not get a licence. This result was given without Vikram ever taking a driving test. The official did not even realise that Vikram was following his driving routine religiously, and could even put on a seat belt on his own.

Despite the hiccups, Vikram was getting better at driving using his feet with every passing day. There was no good news on his request for a regular driving licence but his learner’s licence was renewed three times.

Not one to give up, despite the application being rejected by the motor licencing officer, Vikram approached the commissioner transport who accepted the application. But there was no clarity on getting the prized driving licence.

Soon, Vikram was knocking the doors of the local government and met the transport minister of the state government. With no approval of his application in sight and with the Motor Vehicles Act having been passed by the central government, he approached Union Minister Nitin Gadkari for an intervention.

His efforts finally bore fruit. On September 29, 2016 Vikram got a call from the local officer that his application had been approved and he could come over and complete the formalities the next day. “I was surprised getting his call since I had prepared for a long fight ahead,” he recalls of the day. As expected, his success attracted the local media.

While the process may not be smooth in several states across India, over the last two years, several other specially-abled people have managed to get a driving licence with guidance from Vikram. His story has been their inspiration.

Perseverance and self-empowerment are Vikram’s mottos.  Not only has he moved ahead, he has shown the way to millions of Indians. “I always first try doing things myself. Whenever I did not succeed, help was available. I want to extend the same help to others.” he says.