Mahendra Mehta was born in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1933. He was a diamond and jewelry businessman who inherited the seeds of compassion from his mother who had encouraged him to give his first earnings to the less fortunate. The majority of his time was devoted to humanitarian work. Asha Mehta, his wife, a deeply religious person by nature, brought the feeling of warmth and compassion to their humanitarian work. She worked side-by-side with Mahendra Mehta on all welfare projects.
Besides being engaged in several charitable projects, he was very interested in world peace through interfaith programs. The legacy of the First Parliament of 1893 had made a deep impression on him. He appreciated the visionary work of Swami Vivekananda and Virchand Raghvjee Gandhi in bringing the teachings of Hinduism and Jainism to the west for the first time. He also felt that the Parliament is the most important organization to promote the world peace and harmony in this terror stricken world. He felt that India, a home of four major world’s religions should also host a future Parliament. He made several trips to Chicago to make his case.
Under his leadership, India for the first time took part in the bidding process in May 2006 in collaboration with the World Jain Confederation, Mumbai. He brought leaders from various religions practiced in India to come together and make the proposal for hosting the 2009 Parliament in New Delhi, India. However, Melbourne was awarded the Parliament, the third city in the proposals being Singapore.
Mahendarabhai along with his wife Ashaben made their vision of establishing the art of paintings as a powerful media to enhance the cause of the world peace by showcasing the Jain Sacred Art Exhibit at 2009 Parliament of World’s Religion held in Melbourne Australia. The exhibition of 38 rare painting from India was personally funded by the Mehta family. It became one of the most visited displays at the six day Parliament. His exemplary work came to international attention and earned him an important seat on the International Advisory Committee for the furtherance of interreligious harmony around the world.
Mahendrabhai was so impressed with the Parliament’s work that he wanted to see the Parliament open an office in India for interfaith activities in the eastern hemisphere. He offered office space and the use of his staff until the Parliament office would become self-supportive in India.
Mahendrabhai formed Ratna Niddhi Charitable trust (www.rnct.org) about 25 years ago from his own family funds which helped the drought hit population of rural Gujarat at that time, especially the children with food and blankets to help them survive a severe winter.
He set up an NGO Project ‘Mainstream’ in the 1990s, whose objective was to empower children to use their own potential and take charge of their own lives. It focused mainly on deserted street children. The unique feature of this project was the “night squad” – a duo made up of a social worker and trained street child who would visit the street children “hangouts” where they stay at night under the bridges and on streets. They would meet these children, find their needs and refer them to various government and NGO to fulfill their needs. Till this date, under guidance of Mr. Mehta, the Project Mainstream has touched the lives of over 55,000 children. They have either settled into businesses of their choice or have been meaningfully employed.
Jain art exhibit and the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne.
An ongoing food Program set up by Mahendra Mehta in Mumbai feeds over 6000 children daily through networking with other NGOs. Daily free meals to the school-attending children foster education and reduce the drop out rate in their schools
During the disastrous earthquakes in Gujarat he worked with many government agencies and through his Ratna Niddhi Trust provided necessities to the victims within days of the disasters. Under his leadership an orphanage for girls was completed along with a series of 145 primary classrooms in 42 schools spread over 40 villages.
The Mobility projects in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Honduras, Columbia, Afghanistan, Myanmar and several African countries through his Ratna Nidhi Charitable Trust have made more than 150,000 physically challenged persons lead a near normal life through fitting of the Jaipur foot artificial limbs for amputees and calipers for the polio affected. They have distributed thousands of tricycles, wheelchairs, crutches and walkers to the handicapped. They have also conducted audio tests and distributed hearing aids to the needy school children.
Mahendra Mehta was instrumental in changing the lives of cleft lip children. He set up several camps for surgeries of cleft lips and palettes to help overcome hundreds of children’s miseries. Additionally, a mobile hospital provides facilities to children and persons living in remote areas of India where no regular health facilities are available. He also arranged for several eye camps in African countries to perform over 1,000 surgeries.
Under the Garments project, Mr. Mehta has distributed over 4,000,000 garments and blankets to the most needy children and elders. Mumbai is well known for its heavy downpours and the worst sufferers are poor people who cannot afford several essential items. Nearly 20,000 raincoats were distributed to children during 2003, about 3 weeks prior to the monsoon.
Mahendra Mehta recipient of the John Connor Award from Operation Smile at a 2008 Gala.
Mahendra Mehta has been honored for humanitarian work with several awards including the prestigious Humanitarian Rose Award given by the late Princess Diana’s Trust at the Kensington Palace, London; Cardinal Health Award of World of Children in the USA; Humanitarian Award by the Federation of Jain Associations in North America; Award of Excellence by the International Jain Sangh; John Connor Award for Humanitarian Work by Operation Smile, USA; and an Award for Humanitarian Projects Worldwide by the Rubin Museum of Art, New York.
A community prayer meeting was held on Wednesday, August 28, 2013, at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chowpatty, Mumbai, in his honor.
The sympathy of the Parliament accompanies this tribute from CPWR Board Trustee Kirit Daftary.
Featured image courtesy of Wikipedia
Top Right: Mahendra Mehta, one of the world’s leading humanitarians, Jain, and Parliament of the World’s Religions International Advisory Committee Member, has died on August 23, 2013.
Top Left: Mahendra Mehta, (back row left) with the bid teams preparing proposal to host the 2000 Parliament of the World’s Religions event.
Bottom Right: Jain exhibit of art at the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne.
Middle Left: Jain art exhibit and the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne.
Bottom Left: Mahendra Mehta recipient of the John Connor Award from Operation Smile at a 2008 Gala.