2001: Dr. H. Sudharshan

2001:  Dr. H. Sudharshan

Soliga Tribals were living for centuries peacefully but in primitive conditions in the Biligiri Rangana Betta (hills) of Karnataka.  Their even tenor of life, albeit in poverty and ignorance, was rudely shattered since India’s Independence when their forests were cleared for industry and modern agriculture and urban vandals started expropriating their lands for miscellaneous uses.  After 1950, the Soligas’ living conditions slid down rapidly from poverty to exploitation to abysmal misery.

Dr. Sudharshan came to B.R.Hills in 1979 as a medico trying to heal the Soligas of multifarious ailments inflicted on them by physical exploitation, malnutrition, primitive living conditions and promiscuous and unhygienic life styles.  The Soligas with their bad experience with civilized human beings were afraid of him and ran away.  But he stayed and installed confidence in them that he was there as a good Samaritan.  He won their hearts and trust in no time when he saved a Soliga from a poisonous snake-bite.

From a healer to a Messiah was a tortuous process.  Dr.Sudharshan filled with idealism inspired by the vision of Albert Schweitzer and emboldened by his four year stint at the Ramakrishna Mission, decided that he would spend the rest of his life with the Soligas.  He set up schools for them to educate both children and adults, trained health workers to do minimum medical care for the people, built up a small hospital and launched the Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra.

What the Soligas got from Dr. Sudharshan’s guidance and endeavour was meaningful education that included knowledge of how to live with nature, understand the use of trees, plants and animals without destroying them.  The basics of empowerment achieved, Dr. Sudharshan moved on to fighting for justice when urban land grabbers used powerful vested interests to get him arrested.  Thousands of Soliga men, women and children surrounded the police station as their `messiah’  went on a fast and the police was forced to release Dr.Sudharshan within two days.

Dr. Sudharshan was rightly awarded the `Right to Livelihood Award, also known as the `Alternate Noble Prize’ for his inspiring message to humanity that “the so called civilized society has a lot to learn from the tribals”.
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