An estimated 60,000 tribals from 24 panchayats in Korukonda block were in tears when Dr. Suryakant Patjoshi was relieved as the medical officer of the Public Health Centre at Korukonda, about 20 km from Malkangiri, in 2008. For the people of Potrel, Gongalaguda, Koyaguda, Siraguda, Mohulput, Bonur and other hamlets in the area, he had become a god for rendering yeoman service.
Tribal people here not only hold him in high regard but have also built an ashram in his honour to promote education and health awareness in this district, known as a hotbed of Maoist activities.
During his three-year stint before undergoing specialisation in neurosurgery at the SCB Medical College, Cuttack, he earned the name ‘Bhagaban Sir’.
According to the villagers, the recent deaths of 24 children in the area due to Japanese encephalitis could have been prevented had Dr. Patjoshi been present in the area.
So steadfast was his following that farmers Joga Madhi and Raju Kobasi donated four acres of land to the Neelachal Adivasi Sevasram at Tikaguda, near Korukonda, so that locals can be served under his guidance.
Representatives from 10 hamlets formed a committee with the former Sarpanch of Potrel, Bhima Barshe, a Koya activist, as the president. Now they undertake padayatras every week to distribute medicines in interior hamlets. Incidentally, the medicines are gifted by Dr. Patjoshi.
“Bhagaban Sir is not a human but for all of us is a real god. He would spend his own money on patient care and go to villages regularly on a bicycle or a motorbike,” recalls Bansidhar Muduli, vice-chairman of the Malkangiri Zilla Parishad.
“I know him very well as I hail from Korukonda. Bhagaban Sir won the confidence of patients not only from Korukonda but also from areas bordering Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. He used to perform surgeries with a Midas touch on those suffering from life-threatening ailments,” he points out.
According to Mr. Barshe, the ashram is now home to 25 tribal boys and girls who study at the nearby Saraswati Sisu Mandir. The children are provided free lodging and boarding.
“Bhagaban Sir is against raising contributions from outside. He himself contributes half of his salary and comes here during holidays to conduct medical camps. We also contribute from our savings,” he explains.
Self-help groups have been formed in various villages with encouragement from the ashram committee. Vocational training is promoted for self-employment.
When contacted on the phone, Dr. Patjoshi, who works at SCB Medical College Hospital, Cuttack, told The Hindu that he was doing nothing great. “I feel it is my duty and my dream is to set up a modern hospital on the compound of the ashram,” he discloses.