Saheed Hospital

Asish Kumar Kundu

Saheed hospital was born out of a simple dream of Shankar Guha Neogy. "Toiling masses will have their own hospital" was Neogyji's dream.

The apparent justification of this endeavour grew out of the neglect and indifference shown by the Bhilai Steel Plant Hospital management and staff towards the contractual tribal workers in the BSP's captive mines though these workers were fully entitled to free hospital treatment.

It was early 1981. I had stayed in Neogyji's modest cottage the night before and early in the morning he took me out for a tour around. We came to a vacant area near a small hillock full of shrubs which was apparently used by the locals as an open air toilet. Neogyji showed me the land and said—"this is where we will build the hospital. You come and join us and you will have the hospital ready in three months."

Frankly speaking I did not believe him and expressed my doubts. Where the money would come from in the first place, I thought.

"Oh Doctor Shab", he replied, "it is important to dream and then to strive to make it a reality. There is no hurdle on earth that can stop you from fulfilling your dream if you are serious about it."

Well the hospital was built. Not in three months though. It took two years for the workers to build their own hospital. Shaheed Hospital was born in 1983. The name was given in memory of the eleven martyrs who died in police firing in 1977. As per Neogyji's wishes Saibal and I carried eleven Bokul saplings from Kolkata and planted them in front of the hospital. Today these saplings are full grown trees standing tall and erect and are silent observers of all that has passed through in the last three decades.

But it was not a simple dream after all. It was only later that I realised that Neogyji's dream of building a "worker's hospital" was rooted in his philosophy of "Sangharsh aur Nirman." A literal translation would be "fight and create."

Neogyji was a "leftist." He was deeply influenced by the Marxist-Leninist philosophy and had devoted his life in the struggle for a society based on Marxist-Leninist thoughts. But he was different from the traditional Marxist-Leninist politicians in India. This was probably because he opted to live among the tribal workers of Chhattisgarh as one of their own and understood their lives and aspiration better than others.

Neogyji came to the realisation that talking about an alternative society based on Marxist-Leninist thoughts was an abstract dream hardly fathomable by working people. Abstract thinking was a prerogative of the intelligentsia. For the workers and peasants an alternative society was simply today's society without the corruptions and evils.

So Neogyji developed his own philosophy and strategy. "Build an alternative society within the existing one even if in an enbryonic stage." If the workers get the taste of the alternative society in their daily lives, it does not remain abstract and they would struggle to build that society.

This is the basis of "Sangharsh aur Nirman." So in Dalli Rajhara workers not only build the hospital, but also schools, garages, creche etc. They also had their courts where domestic and neighbourhood disputes wore resolved.

"My aim is to let the workers have the taste of building their own hospital. Even if you destroy it they will build another one. This is how the dream of an alternative society will be rooted in their minds. The dream doesn't remain abstract. It becomes a reality".

So the health movement in Dalli Rajhara started. On 15th August 1981 Neogyji launched people's health programme and handed over the baton to Dr Binayak Sen and me. Dr Saibal Jana joined a year later and took up the reins.

Vol. 48, No. 40, Apr 10 - 16, 2016