By Anupama Pain:
“Do the doctors or the nurses scold if you are crying or screaming due to labour pain in the hospital?” I listened to this exchange with some confusion. Tushar, 25, to my right was talking to Malti, 23, to my left. I was working with a research team, conducting interviews with young mothers to gauge the level of awareness and empowerment among women of rural Uttar Pradesh (UP).
Malti replied, “Well, I did not. But if you will scream, they are bound to scold or beat you, isn’t it?” Unfortunately, Malti’s speculation rings true for many women in India. We made our notes and Tushar completed the interview, with some satisfaction.
Born in Jaipur, Tushar grew up in rural UP, before attending Birla Public School, Pilani, following which he earned a degree in MBBS from Sawai Man Singh Medical College. What set Tushar apart from others like him was that he was always tuned into the pitfalls of the health care system of our country. Unlike many, he chose not to be indifferent. With this attitude, Tushar applied to India Fellow, a year-long fellowship programme which aims to nurture socially conscious leaders.
As part of the programme, he was placed with Innovators in Health (IIH), a nonprofit based out of rural Bihar, working towards caring for tuberculosis patients. The NGO now provides maternal and neonatal health care (MNH) to young mothers as well. At IIH, Tushar embarked on a research project to improve efficiency in the TB and MNH programmes. His personal objectives were aligned with the organisation’s: to improve efficiency in health care by designing the intervention, train the team and run the pilot project. It was this research that led him to Malti.
Tushar could have spent his life working as a doctor in any city and lived a comfortable, even luxurious, life. But he chose not to. Why?
“During my study and hospital visits, I understood that access to health services could be a space for discrimination among people and communities. This brought me face to face with the notion of social justice. I saw health as a convenience of the rich and a privilege for the poor. This made me realise that medicine, the way it is practised today, does not reach everyone in the same way.”
Tushar spent the year of his fellowship in rural Bihar – listening, talking and living with communities, who otherwise, would have only been random patients for him. What he learnt, can perhaps be described as irreplaceable. He says, “I have come out of this experience believing in the power of ordinary people to change their life and have a much larger impact on their communities. People are intelligent and they know what their needs are. We need to step off the pedestal and begin by understanding and empathising with them. We need more idealists in the field who are not satisfied by the condition our fellow humans live in. These will be people who will collectively spark a change. This last year could very well turn out to be a watershed moment in my life.”
We agree with Tushar. We do need idealists. We need people who want to change things, who can move out of their offices and embrace their true purpose. For this, there needs to be opportunity, of training, learning and growing into bold young leaders of tomorrow, who can constructively impact and change lives, the way Tushar is doing it.
The health care system in India, especially rural India, is riddled with inequality, discrimination and bias. It needs changing, and change will certainly take time. But with individuals like Tushar and their contributions to social causes such as these, we all have reason to be more optimistic. All they are looking for is the opportunity. With that thought in mind, I find it easier to look to the future with more hope than despair.
Just like Tushar, you too can do your bit to give back to society and solve one of our most pressing problems. Apply to be an India Fellow today, and get ready for an unforgettable experience!