In an era where success is measured by the size of one’s bank balance, how many of us can find self-actualisation by living a life that the society perceives as ‘below average’? With the option to hoard fancy degrees, work at large multinational corporations, and travel the world, how many of us would choose to settle in a tribal area and dedicate our lives to people with whom we do not share our DNA?
But dedicating his life to the tribals of Melghat is the only thing that brings peace to Dr Ravindra Kolhe, an MBBS graduate from Maharashtra.
Dr Kolhe not only works as a healthcare giver to the tribals of Melghat in Amravati district, Maharashtra, but also acts as a reformer who uplifts their lives socially, economically, and agriculturally.
Born on 25th September 1960 in Shegaon village, Maharashtra, he completed his MBBS from Nagpur Medical College in 1985. His father was an employee of the Indian Railways and had no idea that his son desires to spend his life in tribal areas of Maharashtra, instead of choosing a high paid medical job in the city.
Inspired by the life of Mahatma Gandhi and David Warner’s book Where There Is No Doctor, Dr Kolhe completely transformed in his mind what it meant to be a medical practitioner.
The Logical Indian was able to contact Dr Khole’s younger son, Ram Kolhe, who is also a doctor, and Mr Vaibhav Sonone, a close family associate, who enlightened us about his journey.
Determined to make a difference, Dr Kolhe decided to explore the tribal areas of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh as soon as he completed his MBBS. He wanted to use his skills to help the poor and chose the village Bairagarh in Melghat to fulfil his dream. The region was isolated and he had to walk 40 km to the nearest transport facility in Harisal. Bairagarh was far from any development, completely deprived of any medical facilities, and massively exposed to superstitions, poverty, malnutrition and diseases.
Dr Kolhe realised that he needed a separate set of skills to treat the people of Bairagargh as medical facilities were not available in the village. Learning how to deliver a baby without modern hospital equipment and detecting and diagnosing pneumonia without using x-rays, were some of the things he needed knowledge of. Therefore, to further his education, he applied for a six-month course in Mumbai.
After serving in Bairagarh for a year, he left the village in 1987 to pursue his MD. He wrote his thesis on ‘Malnutrition in Melghat’ which was covered by BBC radio and attracted global attention to Melghat.
The support of a loving wife
He is married to Dr Samita who was practising in Nagpur at the time. Dr Samita is supportive of her husband’s work as she realised his passion for helping the poor. At the time of their marriage, she voiced no problems to walking a distance of 40 km with him when required. She knew that her husband earned a monthly income of Rs 400 as he only charged Rs 2 per patient, thus the couple’s marriage was nothing more than a low profile registration in court which cost them Rs 5.
Initially, it was hard for her to gain the trust of the tribals, however, an incident changed their perception. A villager named Hariram was grievously injured in a bear attack. In the absence of her husband, Dr Samita gave him more than 400 stitches and saved his life.
She also proved her commitment to the people of Melghat when she chose to deliver her own baby in Bairagarh, despite complications in her pregnancy and against everyone’s advises to receive medical help in Nagpur.
Subsequently, Dr Samita also convinced the people of Melghat against animal sacrifices in Ram Navmi and instead suggested that they organise outdoor activities like Kabbadi and Vollyball.
Eradication of poverty
Agriculture and farming
Malnutrition was a major problem in Melghat. In 1989, the child mortality rate of the region was more than 200 deaths in every 1000 children. Diseases like pneumonia and diarrhoea were not only common among the children but affected the adults too. Melghat and Dharni regions, which have more than 300 villages, were far from development or any kind of medical facilities.
According to Dr Ravindra, the core problem was not malnutrition, but poverty in the region. He understood that raising the standard of living of the locals was the only solution to eradicate the deadly diseases and curb the number of deaths.
In this regard, he studied agriculture at Punjab Rao Karishi Vidyapeeth and came back to Melghat to teach the locals about effective farming for their own sustenance and to produce enough for agribusinesses. He rented some land in the area and indulged the locals in farming. To educate them about mixed crop farming and other advanced farming techniques, he set up awareness camps. He made the people believe that they can grow enough fruits and vegetables to sustain themselves and also make profits from the excess produce.
Today, Dr Kolhe’s elder son Rohit is a successful farmer who helps his father spread awareness about modern and cheaper agricultural techniques. Their collective efforts have paid off as every tribal in Melghat now leads a healthy life, and the child death rate is less than 60.
It is also important to mention that in a country where farmer suicides are on a rise, Melghat has had no such cases because of the efforts of the Kolhe family.
Th family also took charge of the National distribution system (Ration depot) after identifying the corruption involved in the existing system due to which the villagers were deprived of their share of grains, sugar, etc. Presently, every tribal in Melghat gets a fair share of the disbursement even at times when they might have omitted to collect the produce.
Constructing the first hospital with an operation theatre
In 2011, Dr Ravindra was awarded “Lokmat of the year” by LokMat newspaper and an award money of 15 lakh was presented to him. He used the money to build a hospital, and Melghat got its first operation theatre. Thanks to his efforts, the region with more than 300 villages, now has more than 200 small government health care centres where the tribals get free medical services.
“A PDS (Public Works Department) minister who visited Melghat offered to build a proper house for us after looking at its poor condition, but I requested him to improve the road network in the region instead, and the minister obliged. Now, 70% of the villages are connected by roads,” said Dr Kolhe’s wife, Dr Samita.
Organising Youth Camps
The family also runs a youth camp twice a year from May 25 to June 2 – a week after Diwali – where youngsters not only from Melghat, but from distant places come and actively take part to contribute to the sanitation of the area, gain basic health and medical knowledge, and help spread awareness in the region.
Dr Kolhe wishes to expand his hospital further to make sure everyone in the region has access to all the modern medical facilities and technology. It’s his dream to appoint his younger son as the permanent surgeon in Melghat. He is currently pursuing his MBBS and has planned to go join his parents after completion of his course to further his parents’ dreams.
Electricity is still a major problem in Melghat and Dr Kolhe wishes to electrify even the smallest villages of Melghat. He hopes that the state government helps him in this endeavour.
Lastly, his major plan is to establish a “Competitive Exams Study Centre” where young job aspirants can avail free education.
His message to young India
Though his entire life has been an inspiration, Dr Kolhe appeals to the youth of our nation to curtail individual needs as much as possible and work towards the betterment of the society. “The greatest satisfaction in life is to be able to contribute happiness in other’s lives,” he said.
The Logical Indiansalutes the lifelong selfless efforts of Dr Ravindra Kolhe and Dr Samita Kolhe. We also urge the Maharashtra Government to recognise the need for electricity in the region and take collective efforts to improve it.