Sharad Ashani’s device is helping save lives in a unique way. With his company Gold Life, he has installed over 50,000 ‘anti-suicide’ rods in ceiling fans across several hospitals, hotels, hostels, jails, and government quarters in India.
This rod, Sharad says, can be retrofitted on a fan to prevent suicides by hanging. The innovation was recently featured on a Shark Tank episode, bagging an investment of Rs 50 lakh for 30% equity.
“In the last decade or so, our company has collaborated with various institutes and organisations such as IIM Ahmedabad, AIIMS Jodhpur, hostels in Kota, Ambala jail and so on to eliminate the fear and problem of hanging by ceiling fan. I started developing this rod in 2004, and it is great to see our product gaining nationwide visibility through the reality show,” Sharad tells The Better India.
Alongside working for an MNC as an assistant general manager, Sharad decided to build something of his own. In 2011, he participated in Mahindra’s Spark The Rise competition under the ‘social innovation’ category and won a grant of Rs 4 lakh.
However, he saved the grant money and decided to launch his product in the market only after his retirement. He put a break on this for a couple of years and resumed in 2017.
Due to limited funds, Sharad chose to make an inventory of 200 rods instead of spending on marketing his products, he says. He wrote to a newspaper for coverage and, soon, his product was being covered by several media houses. Thereafter, orders began flowing in, he adds.
What makes the rods so vital
Sharad says he was moved to build these rods after the death of model Nafisa Joseph, who died by suicide in Mumbai in 2004.
“The first thing I did after reading Nafisa’s case was stare at the fan. I wished the fan had fallen, or that the dupatta had loosened during the act. A few days later, I came across a similar case of a young girl. Incidentally, a month later, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) released a report according to which there were 1,13,000 deaths by suicide. Of these, over 30% were due to hanging,” says Sharad.
As part of his research, Sharad started noting NCRB statistics every year and realised that the number of people using fans to die was increasing. In 2020, almost 57% of the suicides were by hanging, which is a sharp spike since 2004.
He also noted a spike in college and university hostels. For instance, more than 48,000 students ended their lives between 2015-2019, which is a sharp rise from 38,000 between 2010-2014, he says.
“There is no study to prove that a fan is the most feasible option to die. But as per my assessments of news reports, it can be noted that for poison or an overdose, you need prescription and money. Other modes require immense courage. The solution of installing rods, at least in hotels, is better than removing fans, which a university was doing in 2021. It can make a world of difference even if the person reconsiders or delays their decision after a failed attempt,” he adds.
Working on the model
“Why are you patenting the technology? Who will steal it?” the administrator at the patent office asked Sharad upon knowing the device. He was not the first who did not believe in the product. Even Sharad’s family members wondered if it was useful, he says.
But for him, all his efforts would be worth it even if he was able to sell even one device and save a life. After retirement, he rented a small place and opened his workshop.
His research was extensive, right from self-trials to speaking to experts and calculating a person’s neck pressure according to their age and weight. He purchased second-hand equipment like fans, pipes, and springs from Mumbai’s Chor Bazar. He unleashed the engineer within him and built multiple models.
In one of his trials, the fan even fell on his head, but fortunately, the helmet saved him from any injury.
“On an average, the fan is fitted at a height of 7-8 feet. So I had to come up with a mechanism in which the rod disengages itself from the fan via a spring and safely lands the person on the ground. The mechanism comes into motion as soon as the fan exceeds the determined weight,” explains Sharad.
He says he also visited Nata Mallick, an executioner in a Kolkata prison, to understand neck pressure and breathing rates as soon as the hanging process began.
Once the device was ready, it did not take much time before it was in papers.
“The Airforce School in Faridabad was my first customer. They ordered 300 retrofitting rods followed by Kota Hostel Association. So far, we have covered 80% of the hostels. The price of the rod is between Rs 300-400, depending on the size of the fan,” says Sharad.
“We have installed over 500 such rods to cover our hostels. It is a very useful device designed to save lives. It is better to stop something from happening in the first place than to fix the damage,” Shivanshis Tripathi, former store and purchase officer at IIM Kashipur, tells The Better India.
With the funds received from Shark Tank, Sharad aims to invest in scaling his manufacturing and inventory.
Those struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm may find a list of helplines to access here. Or, they may call on 9152987821.
Edited by Divya Sethu