Who are some great Indian women that most people have not heard of?

Answer by Raakhee V. Menon:

Dr. Lalitha Regi

Dr. Lalitha Regi (nee Varma) was born into the royal family of Cochin in Tripunithura, Kerala. All hell broke loose in her uber conservative family when she decided to get married to the love of her life Dr. Regi M. George whom she met while studying at Alleppey Medical college. They got married nevertheless (the aftermath of her marriage and the reactions in her family is the stuff of legends) and they were working at Kasturibai Hospital in Dindigul district when they visited Sittlingi, a remote village in Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu, as a part of an all-India tour that they went on. Dr. Lalitha is a gynecologist and Dr. Regi is an anesthesiologist.

The nearest towns to Sittlingi are Dharmapuri at a distance of 100 km and Salem another 120 km away. The nearest taluk hospital is 50 km away in Harur, which has no surgical facility. There are no pucca roads, power or telephone cables. Till the early 1990s, proper medicare was unheard of. Fifteen out of every 100 children died before they reached the age of one; 75 per cent of babies born were low Birth Weight (LBW) babies and the Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) was as high as 154/1,000. [1]

The plight of the tribal community there was deeply saddening and the doctor couple decided to settle there, leaving behind the comforts of city life. After facing a lot of hardships in the beginning, they finally set up the Tribal Health Initiative (THI) in 1992.

Dr. Regi and Dr. Lalitha, fondly known as Gi and Tha, have dedicated their lives to this cause. An article[2]from India Today reads…

Started as no more than a mud hut with only the couple on duty, THI has grown into a hospital with 40 staffers and facilities like an operation theatre, labour ward, scans and an X-Ray. They offer medical insurance to senior citizens among tribals for Rs 30 a year. For others too, the charge is not more than Rs 50-60. After 17 years of providing medical care, THI has now set its sights on livelihood issues. They are training tribal farmers in organic farming and providing vocational training in crafts, plumbing and welding.

Dr. Lalitha has won the real heroes award from CNN IBN, and the Vanitha Woman of the Year Award in 2008 for her exemplary contribution in the field of education, health care and social service, among many other awards.

She started Porgai Producer Group, to revive the vanishing Lambadi hand embroidery and to support women to work from home for a fair wage. Porgai means ‘pride’ in the Lambadi dialect.

She also facilitates Sittilingi Valley Organic Farmers Association, providing technical and moral support.

Here is another article[3] about them that I found online…

Sittilingi is a remote village in Dharmapuri district, 125 km away from Salem town in Tamil Nadu, which used to be a god forsaken land caught under the spell of quacks and black magic. Noisy drums and fake injections were all they had to cure illnesses. This is when Dr. Regi and Dr. Lalitha took the plunge. This doctor couple went ahead to provide medical services to the tribals of Sittilingi, leaving their promising careers in the cities.

The couple found their calling in service to the underprivileged and wanted to use their knowledge where it was needed the most. Their hunt for the right place to offer their service ended at Sittilingi, a totally neglected and ignored tribal village. They ventured into the village, faced tough resistances and now they have emerged successful in establishing a full-fledged medical center for the tribals. A service beyond praises!

Regi and Lalitha called their service the Tribal Health Initiative (THI). Their perseverance and continued service has brought about dramatic change in the living conditions of the natives. Infant mortality rate in Sittilingi has reduced to 20/1000 and there are no mothers dying in childbirth for the past 5 years. The nutrition levels of children and the general well being of the people have improved to a great extent.

Another striking fact about the Sittilingi initiative is that the girls who serve as nurses at the medical center are personally trained by Regi and Lalitha. When Regi and Lalitha saw that it was extremely difficult to get nurses to work at this tribal village, they decided to go choose smart and trainable girls from the village. This became such a wonderful uplift to the self esteem of the girls that they are extremely proud to be part of this initiative and to serve their community.

THI’s approach to medical care went one step ahead in educating the people and ‘helping the tribals help themselves’. They wanted to create a general understanding about health and health issues and make the natives acquainted with basic first aid. Today, over 21 neighbouring villages are benefiting from the Tribal Health Initiative that sprung at Sittilingi.

And, the couple didn’t stop with medical facilities. They organize educational programmes, cultural activities and community development initiatives. There is a library facility that is available for children who also get to listen to motivating stories from a community worker every month. Truly commendable, right?

It is very heartening to know about the selfless and committed service of Regi and Lalitha and many others who are supporting them. You can visit them at Sittilingi and get to know their service better.

You can visit their site to know more about their activities → Tribal Health Initiative

And I’m proud to say that Dr. Lalitha is my mother’s childhood friend and classmate. My mother remembers her as a very soft-spoken and gentle soul. Dr. Lalitha’s brother is married to my aunt’s sister 🙂

Footnotes:

[1] A healthy change

[2] Dr Regi M. George

[3] Doctor couple does wonders for tribals at Sittilingi – The Better India

Who are some great Indian women that most people have not heard of?

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