RABI-UL-AWWAL / RABI - U - THANI
Volume 17-05 No : 209
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Interview: Dr. Hanif Lakdawala
For Ahmedabad social worker, Dr. Hanif Lakdawala, a course in medicine was not a passport to launch a career which more often than not turns exploitative. It was a way to get to the heart of the people, fathom the depth of the miseries and maladies that afflict the underdogs of the society and to bring them cure and relief. Nearly a quarter century after Lakdawala set up a small clinic in the Millatnagar slums of Ahmedabad, he is discovering that diseases are rooted in social ills like poverty, insanitation, unemployment, urban influx, slums and huddled living. They need more than medicine to heal the social wounds.
Holding an MD in Psychiatry from KEM Medical College of Ahmedabad, Dr. Lakdawala today presides over two powerful NGOs, namely Sanchetana and Institute of Initiatives in Education (IFIE), which are propelling the causes he held dear. Sanchetana began working among the slum folk in Ahmedabad in 1982 addressing the medical needs of the poor irrespective of the community. But frequent riots instigated by the fascist forces often negated the good work. Demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 proved a major watershed. Dr. Lakdawala and his team looked into the causes. IFIE sprang out of national and regional level consultations among Muslims intellectuals and mediamen. They were united on the need to provide quality education to Muslim children in order that they could be acceptable in the mainstream professions, employment opportunities, democratisation within their ranks, empowerment of women and the need to rise above their petty sectarian biases. Based on the outcome, IFIE began coaching classes in slums to help students there achieve better grades and thereby espouse camaraderie among Hindus and Muslims.
With 22 years of work behind, Dr. Lakdawala continues to work with undimmed zeal to uplift Muslims through education, heal the social wounds through health clinics and frequent interaction with the media. He spoke to Maqbool Ahmed Siraj for Islamic Voice last fortnight while in Bangalore.
What made you to take up social service as a career despite having an MD degree in hand?
Even while doing my MBBS at Surat, from where my family comes, I worked in slums. From then on the nexus between the poor health and poverty and poor housing had begun to dawn upon me. We belonged to a prosperous family with timber business. But a time came when our business declined and we could afford no good education and medical care. I vividly remember a moment when a doctor took back the packet of medicine from my hand he had given for my sick mother merely because I failed to pay him money instantaneously. The moment got etched on my memory. When I moved to Ahmedabad for my MD course, I continued to probe into the social roots of poor health. An exploitative medical system stared into my eyes from all around. I deduced five determinants-1- low buying capacity of the slum people, 2-low status of women in the community, 3-lack of education, 4-poor hygiene and sanitation in slums which breed diseases and 5-irrelevant and exploitative medical system which is deficient on delivering to the poor people.
I started from the fifth problem. I set up a clinic at Millatnagar slum. Jamaat-e-Islami Hind had created this 300-house colony following the communal riots of 1969. But by 1982, the same facilities were catering to 3,000 families. One could imagine how stretched they must have been. My aim was to provide medical care at reasonable cost. We even trained women in basic medical services such as immunisation, malnutrition, hygiene, child care etc. We would go door to door and weigh the infants and explain the reason for low weight and introduced the concept of self-care. We also told them about relationship between poor quality of water and diseases stemming from it.
How did the work yield results?
Initially, people thought I was a missionary. But my training in psychiatry helped me to diagnose people’s problem. Our selfless service established our credibility. Our clinic used to have 120 patients during three working hours. We formed ‘Milap’ groups which began to work for communal harmony. As a result, the infant mortality went down from 120 per 1,000 live births to 70, malnutrition declined from 67 per cent to 43 per cent, immunisation from zero per cent to 82 per cent among a population of 20,000. We expanded our medical services from Millatnagar to Khodayarnagar, Allahnagar and Chandula Lake areas. Now our work in the medical care has expanded to nearly 20 slum pockets and coaching classes have been started in places like Jamnagar and Rajkot.
There is poor tradition of social service among Muslims. Were you suspected?
Local politicians felt threatened. They thought I was interested in being a political leader. One such political lord one day came with a pistol. But consistent work of 7-8 years convinced the people of our credibility.
In fact, our trained youths later replaced the local goondas and slowly the rowdy elements were subdued. Political leadership moved into more responsible hands
Besides the resources for social work, the question of livelihood itself haunts the social worker. How should the social worker tackle this?
One has to face difficulties in his stride. Material aspect of life was not important for me. I was even active in Jayaprakash Narayan’s Nav Nirman Movement. One has to have determination. God helps those who help others.
What impact did the social work have on the communal harmony?
Millatnagar never became the hot-bed of communal disharmony despite Ahmedabad slipping into madness time and again. Once a Muslim youth stopped a Hindu girl telling her to convey to the Hindus in her colony that Hindu women were safe in Millatnagar. In Allahnagar, no one among the 10 per cent Hindus has ever been harmed by Muslims. Our coaching classes have produced best of Hindu-Muslim friends. Of late, the communal bonhomie espoused by us has come to be viewed as a thorn in the flesh by communal forces. We celebrate Hindu and Muslim festivals together.
Contact: Institute for Initiatives in Educations, 0-45/46 New York Centre, Nr. Thaltej Cross Road, Sarkhej-Gandhinagar Highway, Ahmedabad - 380054. Ph: +91-79-6857848. Email: ifieahdad1@ sancharnet.in
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