The life of a person committed to the social cause is difficult; such a person keeps swimming against the tide. Much beyond our imagination. When Dr. Ravindra and later Dr. Smita Kolhe chose to live and provide healthcare to inaccessible and ignored villages around Bairagad, they would not have imagined so many big obstacles (and obstructions) will have to be surmounted.
Dr. Ravindra who spent there a year before returning to Nagpur for getting his post grad degree in medicine knew what was in store before he returned to Bairagad. The villagers did not believe that he would return to their village. But soon after getting his MD in Medicine, Dr. Ravindra returned with his wife Dr. Smita. She gave up a good medical practice, her love for fashionable clothes and good urban living.
Strange were the four conditions of Dr. Ravindra Kolhe for his prospective bride – She should be willing to manage household matters in Rs 400 per month (because he was charging a fee of Re 1 to all his patients and he was treating four hundred patients in a month).
Second, she must be willing to walk forty Kms at a stretch. That was because there no vehicle could reach Bairagad during monsoon and there was no option but to walk forty kilometers to reach a village. (Bairagad is in Melghat region of Amravati district in Maharashtra.)
The third condition was that the expense for marriage must not exceed Rs five! (Tell this to Mukesh Ambani who spent Rs 500 Cr on his son’s marriage). Why? Because that was the cost of marriage registration.
The fourth condition was that the bride should be willing to beg for the benefit of others, not for oneself. This was based on Dr. Ravindra’s belief that if you wish to help others you have to drop your ego. His relatives thought he was foolish in setting these conditions.
But Dr. Smita accepted all the conditions! Now, what makes a city girl do it?
There were countless difficulties. The illiterate villagers followed many superstitious practices which went against good healthy living. Helping a lady deliver a baby would be a no-no for a male doctor and villagers did not think of Dr Smita as a doctor. There were forced conversions, exploitation of Adivasis (tribals), and on top of it, many Government officials were corrupt who did not allow the benefits of various welfare schemes to reach the villagers.
That led to several court cases, even physical violence against the doctor duo. But they carried one. As if these difficulties were not enough, they had a cobra and a python camping at their home at different times!
Their efforts bore sweet fruits – ‘The work of Kolhe couple has resulted in reduction of infant mortality rate from 200 per 1000 to 40 and pre-school mortality rate from 400 per 1000 to 100. In 2019, the couple received Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian award.’ (Wikipedia).
We return to the question – What makes a doctor couple go to village sacrificing future life of leisure and affluence? Why did they do it? Why did they do it when Baba Amte warned that there was no institutional support for them so there was a high risk of failure?
The easiest explanation is that Dr. Ravindra was deeply influenced by the life and thoughts of great social reformers – Gadge Baba , Vinoba Bhave and Gandhi. But it is an incomplete explanation. Many persons, me included, have great feelings for the downtrodden, but we never act on them. They did. They were true to their feelings.
That is how ordinary persons reach greatness. The couple was awarded Padmashri in 2019.
I read their story in ‘Melghatavaril Mohur’ (Marathi, Rajhans Prakashan Rs 300, author: Mrinalini Chitale). Though the book deserved better editing, it is nevertheless a ‘must-book’ read.
Vivek S Patwardhan
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”