If one met Prakash Amte’s wife Manda, joint recipient of the Roman Magsaysay award, it would be difficult to imagine this quiet, low-profile lady as the main force behind the Lok Biradari Hospital that was set up in 1973, to serve the country’s most backward tribals Madia and Gond.
She deliberately kept away from the limelight.
Born on Christmas Eve, 1946, Manda, hails from a conservative Brahmin family. Her father Vasantrao Deshpande and mother Kusumtai were primary schoolteachers at the local Dharampeth School in Nagpur where Manda and her siblings also studied.
If Manda is Prakash’s strength, her own inspiration came from elder sister Sunanda who did her doctorate in medicine. Like her sister, Manda wanted to study medicine. She joined Medical College in 1965 and obtained an MBBS degree in 1970.
It was here that she met Prakash, a junior. “It was love at first sight,” she says, and decided that he was the man she would spend her life with. But their decision to marry met with stiff opposition from her parents. Along with marriage, they took another crucial decision: More than setting up home it was about working at the remote Bhamragarh in the tribal district of Gadchiroli in 1972.
Apart from Prakash, Manda was greatly influenced by Baba Amte. When Prakash asked her to help in running a charitable hospital at Hemalkasa, some 400 km from Nagpur, she was more than willing.
“When we came to Hemalkasa in 1973, a year after our marriage, there was no electricity, no telephone and even not potable water,” she says, adding that electricity came to Hemalkasa in 1992 and telephone services only in 2001.
That apart, snakes and beasts were a regular feature at the hospital and the Hemalkasa premises. Malaria was a major killer. But none of this weakened her resolve. “I came of my own will. Nobody forced me to come and serve the people.”
Her elder son Digant, a doctor, wanted to marry a doctor. So Manda put out an advertisement for a medico bride with the condition that she should be willing to settle and serve in the jungles. They found Anagha, who has been working in the hospital since.
Before the Magsaysay award, Manda has received several awards, including the Adivasi Seva Purashkar, Savitribai, Hedge award and Nagabhushan Award.