The good gets a passing mention and many are involved in selfless service in the society. My dear friend Colonel Tripathi sent me a beautiful writeup about a karmayogi doctor couple. With his permission,
SEWA ON BEYOND REACH AREA
Dr Ravindra Kolhe and Mrs (Dr) Smita Kolhe
सिंहवत्सर्ववेगेन पतन्त्यर्थे किलार्थिनः॥
Those who intend to get work done cast themselves on the task with all possible speed, like a lion.
The above quote is true depiction of this Doctor couple, who have changed the life of tribals in one of the most neglected tribal habitats in Melghat area of Maharashtra.
When Ravindra Kolhe read a book “Where there is no doctor” by David Berner, he knew what he has to do in life. He is the first doctor in his ordinary middle-class family from Sheogaon. His father Deorao Kolhe was Railway worker. This story began in 1985, when he after graduation from Nagpur Medical College made up his mind to serve tribals of Bairagadh in Melghat area. Not allured by high paying job or medical practice, Dr Kolhe had made up his life’s mission “SEWA” of most neglected tribals of Melghat area. Having decided, now he ventured out to find a life partner who can join him in his mission. It was beyond thinking in our society, where the custom and tradition is that “would be” brides parents look for suitable groom, while in his case he himself went out to find someone who will marry him. Anything wrong in this? Most probably not.
But the strange thing was he had conditions. He wanted a true companion. He started searching for the right match for himself but had four conditions.
First, the girl should be ready to walk for 40 km (the distance to be covered to reach Bairagarh).
Second, she should be ready for a ‘Rs. 5 wedding’ (court marriages at the time cost Rs. 5).
Third, she should be willing to manage financially with Rs. 400 per month (Dr. Kolhe charged Re. 1 per patient and had almost 400 patients every month).
And lastly, she should be ready to beg too, not for herself but if needed, for the welfare of others.
After being rejected by almost 100 prospective brides, he finally met Dr. Smita, a doctor with a flourishing practice in Nagpur. Apart from being a Doctor, she was a para glider, aviator, musician of fame, theatre artist and accomplished painter. Somehow, as the things were taking shape for a divine journey of two, for a saintly duty, she was also inclined from within towards service for humanity. Strong internal desire in this direction took shape when she during her college days, attended a camp at Vivekanand Rock Memorial, Kanyakumari in which Kendra has given a call to youth to come forward and work for betterment of poor and neglected in far flung areas. Brilliant young Doctor Smita agreed to all pre conditions of Dr Ravindra and said YES to marry Dr Ravindra Kolhe. A rare and remarkable journey of these two started, to serve humanity in a most difficult area in Maharashtra.
Dr Ravindra and Dr Smita Kolhe in earlier days in Bairagadh, Melghat
But there was another challenge waiting for the couple in Bairagadh. People there, had accepted Dr. Ravindra and begun to trust him after the first two years of his stay with them. But Dr. Smita, who was not docile but a fighter for women’s empowerment, had to be still accepted by the villagers.
After few years, a better living place of Dr Kolhe
One incident helped in this respect. Dr. Smita was
pregnant with her first child. Dr. Kolhe decided to do the delivery himself in the same simple way as he did for the villagers. But due to some complications during the delivery, the baby was infected by meningitis, pneumonia and septicemia. People started suggesting that the mother and baby should be moved to a better hospital in Akola. Dr. Kolhe left the decision to Dr. Smita but he had decided in his own mind that if Smita opted to leave the village at this point, he would never come back to show his face to the villagers again. “I can not have two standards one for my own and another for the people whom I am serving”. His wife Dr Smita also showed her steely nerve and did not opt for going to Akola for better care of newly born. Well! what a couple they are and under most challenging and trying conditions their first child was treated in that place only and survived.
It was not an easy task for the young Doctor couple in a society which was riddled with ignorance, orthodox practices, suspicion, untrust and vested interests. Doctor couple says their acceptability in tribal society took a positive shape when they conducted a safe delivery of an expectant tribal mother.
Dr Kolhe checking a patient
Dr Ravindra Kolhe for his MD study, wrote a thesis on the topic “Problem of malnutrition in Melghat”. This work got attention at international level and even BBC Radio came forward to cover the Melghat story.
Dr Kolhe having studied the problem of malnutrition, decided to learn methods to improve the health of tribal society, which was afflicted with malnutrition. For this he studied farming and agriculture from Panjabrao Deshmukh Krishi Vidyapeeth, Akola and developed fungus free seed variety and demonstrated to tribals how the yield can be increased. People followed him and their per capita income increased as well as malnutrition problem was handled successfully.
As Dr Kolhe’s became a house hold name with respect, now people started coming to him with the medical problems of their cattle. What a faith now local populace had in this One Rupee Doctor couple.
Dr Ravindra Kolhev decided to learn about Animal Diseases and treatment. He spent about a year to learn basic anatomy of Animals from a Veterinary Doctor of that area. He started helping people who came to him with their animal’s medical problems.
Such commitment and resolve! A rare human being,
Doctor couple have two Son’s, elder one Rohit Kolhe who is farmer and Ram Kolhe, who is pursuing his MBBS course at Govt Medical College Akola and wants to do Master’s in Surgery as that area does not have a Surgeon, and follow the footsteps of his parents.
One incident shows how selfless they are. Once, the state’s Public Works Department minister of Maharashtra, visited the Kolhe’s and was stunned to see how they lived. He expressed his desire to build a house for them there. Dr Smita instead, asked for good roads in that area and Minister kept his promise. Today, 70% of the villages of that area are connected by roads.
Dr Kolhe’s House in Melghat
This Doctor couple’s work had a scintillating positive impact on health problems in tribal habitats of Bairagadh, Melghat. Infant mortality rate reduced in the region to 40 from 200 per thousand births, while pre -school mortality rate dropped to less than 100 from earlier 400 plus in per thousand children.
With better agricultural yield, two things happened firstly, problem of malnutrition was solved and per capita income increased. Secondly it is seen that there is not a single suicide case, due to farm related stress has been reported amongst tribal farmers in this area. A great social upliftment due to selfless service by Dr Ravindra Kolhe and Dr (Mrs) Smita Kolhe.
The Doctor couple were awarded with Padma Shree on 26 Jan 2019. It was recognition of their untiring and incomparable work for poor tribals of Melghat. It is recognition of hard work and service to downtrodden for 34 long years which even today continues.
Well ! No words can be sufficient to explain how and why a human being decides so to devote whole life for a divine cause and translates the difficulties and challenges in opportunity to serve society. Yes it is ingrained in our culture and ethos and we find such couple amidst all chaos, selfish and greedy behaviour of people at every level of society.
It would not be out of place to sum up this attempt to describe Kolhe’s personality and work by remembering following quotes
SEWA ASMAKAM DHARMAH which describes “Noble Ethos of Selfless Service” and KARM HI DHARM meaning “Work is Supreme Duty”
Written by Col Ravindra Tripathi