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The battle for an arm

After nearly a decade’s struggle, the Delhi High Court ruled that Mahender and Ramwati Koli were entitled to free prosthetic arms for their son Ritik

When you walk through Sadar Bazar, you see hordes of people walking through the small lanes lined with one shop after another, and the honking of autos. But amidst all this chaos, in a small chawl inside a narrow lane, lies a tale of inspiration and perseverance.

Ritik Koli was born to sweet shop owner Mahender Kumar Koli and Ramwati Koli on December 28, 2000. But instead of celebrating the arrival of their newborn, the couple experienced shock and despair. Ritik was diagnosed with Bilateral Elbow Disarticulation. He was born without both of his arms.

“Ritik is very special to us”, says Ramwati. “Yes, we were extremely shocked and disheartened at first. But he is our son, and we love him and take care of him with all our life”, she adds.

“As a child, he was very quiet. He would sit idly in the house watching other children in our locality”, says Ramwati. Ritik pipes in, “The other children didn’t want to play with me and they used to run away from me. That is why I always remained sad.” His father says, “We used to cry every day at the poor boy’s condition”, says Mahender.

When he was five years old, Ritik got admission to the Din Dayal Upadhyay National Institute for Persons with Physical Disabilities. “We thought that going to a school where there are more people like Ritik will help him feel at one with the surroundings”, says Ramwati.

It was there that Ritik, from whom there were no high expectations, found his passion. “One day, when I entered the house from my sweet shop, I saw young Ritik trying to write with his foot. I was surprised, he was writing quite smoothly”, says Mahender. “I saw some people like me in my school were using their foot to write and so I began doing it myself”, says Ritik. “Even his teachers were surprised when they saw he could do this at such a young age”, adds Mahender.

“But I just didn’t want to write. I wanted to learn how to draw and paint. I was always fascinated with painting and art, and secretly wanted to do it myself. But I couldn’t do it because of my disability, and this saddened me a lot”, says Ritik. “But when I found out that I can use my foot to do all these things, I got a new lease of life. So writing was just the first step to achieve my goal”, adds the 17-year-old.

“We were so happy, when we saw him drawing with ease. He learnt the skill of drawing with his feet very quickly, and soon he used to sit with his pencil all day and draw with his right foot”, says Ramwati.

“I love to draw pictures of deities, especially Lord Shiva”, says Ritik, as he beamingly displays the collection of certificates and trophies he has received for his ability to paint.

On his seventh birthday, Ramwati and Mahender gifted Ritik a box of colour pastels. “His eyes lit up, and for the first time we realised how passionate he was. So, we just didn’t want to stop here. We wanted to give something to him that will help him achieve his goal. We wanted to gift him hands”, says Ramwati.

On consulting many doctors, the couple learnt that there are mechanical prosthetic arms available which can help him. “When we learnt about this, we decided that no matter what, we will improve the life of our boy”, says Mahender.

But the quest to attain this prosthetic arm for Ritik was not an easy path for the couple. “We knocked on the doors of many hospitals but were rejected. We even travelled to the farthest corners of Noida and Gurgaon to help our son but to no avail”, says Mahender. “The hospital we visited the most number of times was AIIMS, but they too turned down saying that there was no treatment for our boy”, says Ramwati.

“What we came to know from our visit to these hospitals is that the prosthetic arm would cost around R12-15 lakh. We own a small sweet shop and we somehow manage to earn about R8,000 a month. So it was next to impossible for us to pay such a huge sum of money”, says Mahender.

The Kolis started losing hope as they realised that their dream for their son to get a new life was slowly fading away. A friend of the family suggested that they should move the court demanding a prosthetic arm. It is at this point of time that they met lawyer Ashok Agarwal. “I was at Tis Hazari Court regarding another case, when I met him. I told him about my son, and he said that we can go to court regarding it”, says Mahender.

“When the Kolis came to me seeking my help, I realised that through the law, we can help them. So, I researched heavily and found out that Section 17(g) of the Right of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 states that the government is liable to provide specially abled children like Ritik with assistive devices like the prosthetic arm completely free of cost”, says Ashok Agarwal.
On consulting with the Artificial Limbs Centre in Vimhans Hospital, Lajpat Nagar, Agarwal came to know that the cost of both the artificial hands will cost around R13 lakh, and he also got a written confirmation from the medical head of the LNJP hospital, who confirmed the price of the equipment. Then he filed a petition to the High Court seeking a mechanical arm for Ritik.

Finally, after many hearings in court, the day finally arrived for Ritik’s parents. On November 1, 2017, the Delhi High Court directed that Ritik will be provided with prosthetic arms free of cost, and financial assistance will be provided by the Delhi Arogya Kosh, a government organisation that looks after the healthcare problems of the needy.

“That day was such a huge relief for us. We travelled from pillar to post for our son for over a decade, and finally we got what we wanted — a new lease of life for our son”, says Mahender Koli.

Ritik has already received one prosthetic arm, and will receive the second within a few weeks. “I have learnt how to write and draw with this arm. I even play cricket with the help of this arm”, says the Class XII student, who can now lift a cricket bat with ease.

“Now no one will be able to call me handicapped, as I, too like other people will have arms, with the help of which I can achieve my ultimate goal — to become a famous painter”, says a smiling Ritik.