Transformation Factory: Dr Amte, I Presume

Anand Awadhani handed over his book ‘Prakash vata’ to me. He wrote about Dr Prakash Amte, the younger son of Baba Amte and his work in the tribal land of Hemalkasa. The story inspired a film.

I am not writing about the film. I am writing about what I saw and what impact it had on transformation of people.

We reached Hemalkasa by 3 pm. Hemalkasa is a small place compared to Anandwan and Somnath projects. But it is different. It is different because the people are different. Their concerns are different. The challenges are similar only in magnitude and scale but not in their nature.

When you reach Hemalkasa, you see a well-planned but a tiny colony. It suddenly comes in front of you after you have travelled in jungle for several miles. You are surprised by this urbanish scenario in the midst of a dense jungle. The colony was recently painted so it stood beautiful in the hot sun of June with temperatures touching forty plus. A small group was waiting to meet and photograph themselves with Dr Prakash and Dr Manda Amte. The movie had raised them to celebrity status. The doctor duo obliged and met the groups.

Dr Prakash and Dr Ms Manda Amte called us [I was travelling with my friend, Anirudha] to their residence for a chat. It was hot and humid afternoon. The Amtes speak very softly so listening to them is a challenge when a ceiling fan is whirring above one’s head. They were speaking about the challenges before them. The Madia Gond tribe was hostile initially to the Amtes, but later accepted them. Poverty and malnourishment of Madia Gond is to be seen to be believed. The Amtes offered health care and then education. Today more than 650 students study in the Lokbiradari Prakalp.

The Madia have exceptional ability to bear pain, they said. While our discussion continued, an assistant brought a tab. It showed the fracture suffered by an old Madia woman. Dr Prakash spoke to her in Madia language. We could not follow a word! Not even a word, although we understood the context. The doctor held her wrist and then fingers. Then with some force he stretched them. The lady cried in pain. Plaster of Paris was applied quickly. Some brief conversation in Madia followed. The woman got up and smiled as if nothing had happened.

“They climb trees and sometimes fall down fracturing their limbs” the doc said. I was still reeling under the shock of seeing the doctor duo speak Madia language so fluently. “Their daughter in law has compiled a dictionary of Madia language words,” my guide told me.
There is the taboo subject of Naxalites. Nobody shows undue curiosity. Everybody quickly agrees that the real solution is dialogue and education – it is not violence. This is one area where anyone who takes initiative can earn suspicion and displeasure of either or both the groups. It is better to maintain neutral stance.

Health and education are connectors. Amtes have set up a 50 bed well equipped hospital. From maternity to complex surgery is possible there.

Dr Prakash took us to his zoo. He called out ‘Rani, baher ye!’ [Rani, come out]. Out came Rani, a crocodile, and gave us a good look. “Offer them love, and they will not harm you, they will love you” the doc said. Offering love to a crocodile sounded very strange, but we were seeing evidence that his advice worked. We then went to meet the leopard. It seemed to obey instructions of Dr Prakash. Then the doc entered the cage of a hyena. The hyena put its head down and placed it on the doc’s feet! It seemed as if the hyena was paying obeisance. The doc opened hyena’s mouth and placed his hand inside. The hyena allowed this intimacy; it did not bite! I have seen hyenas hunting on National Geographic, it is fearsome scavenger which takes away the killed prey even from tigers. Oh yes, we have to offer them love and they reciprocate!

Then came the turn of the Banded Krait which he held by its tail as if he was holding a plastic line. The deadly poisonous snake [a bite will kill the victim instantly] did not resist. It did not move. I moved back in sheer fear. Remember what he said? Oh yes, we have to offer them love and they reciprocate!

So hyenas, leopards, crocs and deadly snakes seemed to respond to love! How about those men in the jungle? Some of them Madias were responding to the development efforts so positively. And what about the taboo category called Naxalites? They at least were not causing any harm.

We were then taken to the confluence of three rivers – triveni sangam as it is called. Indravati, Nibra (Pamul Gautami), Kotri (Parlkota) meet there. They merge to form Indravati.

[Pic shows the Triveni sangam, or confluence of three rivers]
There is a confluence of three institutions in Hemalkasa – The Government, The Amtes and The Madias. As of today, the Madias are going with the Amtes. They will go with the Amtes, no doubt, and you know why. Oh yes, they offer them love and care and the Madias reciprocate!

Nobody sets up a dispensary in a jungle. Nobody sets up a school there. Not unless you wish to open a social transformation factory!  

Vivek S Patwardhan
Pics: All my work. Copyright

PS: The enormity of the work of Dr Prakash Amte and family is stunning. When he commenced it [and for several years thereafter] Hemalkasa was almost inaccessible. When Henry Morton Stanley set out in search of Dr David Livingstone and found him, he is reported to have said ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume?’ Livingstone lived with the African tribes. There is some similarity in the stories of Amtes and Livingstone [though admittedly the stories and the purpose of their association with locals were different].

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