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Of Sense and Simplicity - Dr. Abhay and Rani Bang

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Of Sense and Simplicity - Dr. Abhay and Rani Bang
SEARCH (Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health) is a non-governmental organization. It was founded in 1985 by a doctor couple, Abhay Bang and Rani Bang. Trained respectively as a physician and a gynecologist, and after studying at the Johns Hopkins University USA, for their Master of Public Health, the couple returned to India. Inspired by the life and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, their dream was to develop an institution of community health which provided health care to the local population, and generated knowledge for the global community by way of research.
Shodhgram, the HQ campus of SEARCH is 17 km from Gadchiroli on Gadchiroli-Dhanora Road and 182 km from Nagpur is the culmination of their dreams.

The vision of the couple behind setting up SEARCH is the realization of ‘Aarogya-Swaraj’, i.e. ‘people’s health in people’s hands’, by empowering individuals and communities to take charge of their own health, and thereby, help them achieve freedom from disease as well as dependence.
As the name suggests, Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health (SEARCH), it’s mission is to work with marginalized communities to identify their health needs, develop community empowering models of health care to meet these health needs, to test these models by way of research studies, and then to make this knowledge available to others by way of training and publications.SEARCH believes that an important role for the voluntary organizations is path finding or research. ‘Research’ in the context of SEARCH means to identify the problems of people and to develop new and appropriate solutions. 

They use the following methodology:
Go to the people, Live among them, Love them, Listen to them, Learn from them, Begin with what they know, and Build up on what they have.
The areas where SEARCH is successfully working includes Women's Health, Pneumonia in Children, Newborn health and survival, Child death (a human rights issue), Alcohol and women's empowerment, Tribal Health, Deforestation, etc. 
Dr. Abhay and Dr. Rani Bang are the recipients of the highest award ‘Maharashtra Bhushan’ by the State Government. The TIME magazine selected them as the ‘Global Health Heroes’, and published their story in October 2005. Truly following Gandhiji’s teachings, the couple wears only khadi clothes, and lives simple.

What inspired the couple to leave a luxurious professional option and start spreading light in the darkest and remotest parts? How was their journey? The difficulties they faced the things they learned, the changes they made; from point zero to getting recognized, Dr. Rani Bang shares the experiences she and her husband had.

Dr Rani Bang holds the simplicity of a girl next door. The sensitive gynecologist and surgeon and the mother of two, she is proud to be born as a woman. She has a perfect blend of clear thinking and right attitude towards life.Though brought up in a highly educated and high class family, she was never interested in materialistic things. She has always lived simple life, worked hard and thought different.While pursuing her medical studies, she met Dr. Abhay Bang (now her husband). She was highly impressed by his thoughts. He believed that our education should be used to fulfill our social responsibilities. She regards him as her first guru.

When they decided to get married, many opposed their decision due to the difference in the status, background and culture of their families. But they got married against all odds. Marriage for her is not concerned with just the individuals, but also their families, cultures and value systems. But, she firmly opposed the unnecessary expenses in a marriage ceremony and such rituals and put forward an example of highly logical, practical values.
After their marriage, she and her husband started working for Chetana Vikas Sanstha in Wardha. Her husband wanted to make a revolution to better things and lives. She completely believed and supported him for this dream. Her husband too supported her for her work. Dr. Rani recalls that her mother-in-law would say to her son, Dr Abhay that only a lady should not be pati-vrataa, but a man should also be patni-vrataa. This being a perfect example of revolutionary practice; for as they say, change begins at home.

In the beginning, people would run away seeing them, as the concept of a lady doctor was not acceptable. The doctor-couple was welcomed with stones by the villagers as the people there thought that the doctors had some political interests. This misunderstanding was later rubbed off when they interacted with the people.Dr Bang humbly accepts that they learned from the people that if one wants to work for people then he should be honest to them and understand their emotions and difficulties.

Laborers in the region would get 3 rupees per day for work. Dr Rani and Dr Abhay Bang researched in National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, about how much nutrition was necessary for the laborers and accordingly what should be their wages. It came out to be 12 rupees per day. This research benefited around 60 lakh laborers in getting them proper value for their work.John Hopkins University offered the couple a fellowship to honor their work. But their elder son was just two and a half years old, so the families had decided that his mother will stay in India and his father will go. When Dr Rani Bang mentioned it to the Dean of the university, the Dean told her that being a mother does not mean that she would leave her career. And that the university was ready to bear the expenses of their child along with that of the couple’s.
Though they received the fellowship of the best university for medical studies, the geniuses were determined to return to their motherland and work for their own people.They started their Gadhchiroli project in 1985. Patiently, they faced many challenges and would finally gain the respect and trust of the adivaasis. It was a two way learning experience for them. They worked for the betterment of the health of the adivaasis and the adivaasis taught them about forest and nature. They used the method of ‘research for the development of village at the village level itself’. 

Dr Rani Bang says, “God creates difficulties for our benefit only.” And she and her husband have turned every such difficulty into a success story. From getting started to getting recognized, she says that they have learned so many things from life and from people.They have been working for adivaasis since so many years and have understood them very well. She proudly states that there are no thefts, disloyalties, and poverty or rape cases in adivaasis. They live in harmony with nature and with each other. They respect their women. They are spiritual and contented.Now the adivaasis have become their friends and help them in their project. Considering the needs and demands of the adivaasis, the hospitals and care centers have been made.

The doctor couple firmly believes in ‘practice’ than in ‘preaching’, which is finely visible in their youth projects – Tarunyabhaan and Nirmaan.
Dr Rani Bang believes that education is for one’s mental upliftment. But she feels sad that education is losing its power of creating sense. She believes that revolution is a slow process, but it definitely works. She said, “We have to decide whether we have to be a part of a problem by criticizing and crying for it or we have to be a solution, a change maker.”
Dr Rani and Dr Abhay have done so much for adivaasis in Gadhchiroli that it has become a Maaher (mother’s home) for the adivaasis. The success tale of the efforts by the couple shines very brightly now, but it has a lot of devotion, dedication and consistent hard work behind it. 
Dr Rani Bang humbly says, “It’s a team work. It is because of the people who have been with us through every walk of life. We are the head and they are the working organs.”

We learn democracy in books. But in real life, it’s in this way – in its truest form – that we see it; for the people, by the people and of the people!

Reference: www.searchgadchiroli.org, Samaajbhaan

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