My experience with Dr. Sudarshan, Karuna trust who has bagged several awards in Karnataka and crores of money from the government for tribal ‘welfare”. I wrote this in 2008 and shared it with many ‘senior’ public health people who tut-tutted in private and continue to lick his feet in public.
I completed my Post graduation in Public Health and moved immediately to the UK. I did it for family reasons, but my heart was keen on working in India. I felt that I had a duty and responsibility as a doctor to help improve health of India. I followed some of the Public Health work happening in India especially in Karnataka. This was when I first heard about Dr. Sudarshan. I strongly believed in his idealogy – the concept of comprehensive primary health care that was appropriate and culturally relevant really appealed to me. When I finally came to India in June 2007, I wrote to Dr. Sudarshan. The subject of my email simply read ‘Public Health PG available’ and indeed I was available to work under any capacity with Dr. Sudarshan. I was keen to have the role model for Public health that my heart always wanted but never found. I was willing to compromise on personal differences, but I wanted the pleasure of working with someone who shared a similar ideology as mine. I was offered several jobs – the pay scales sounded good but the work ranged from useless to unethical – I was given the option of ‘selling’ my degree for a ‘fair price’, I was offered lucrative jobs with pharmaceutical companies. At a time when I was financially desperate, I turned down all these jobs for the single reason that I had a dream and a vision for Public Health and I gladly accepted a short project with Dr. Sudarshan on corruption. The study shocked me – corruption was rampant, I was glad that the Lokayukta under Dr. Sudarshan did so much. Still there were many voices of resentment – these I ignored blissfully.
Next I was offered a more permanent post with Karuna Trust under Dr. Sudarshan. I worked hard and tirelessly. I was happy to work with and for Dr. Sudarshan. He gave me many opportunities to grow and I am grateful for those.
Still a time came, when things didn’t seem so good. Reporting, documentation – these weren’t so right. There were so many projects, so much work, my mind was working on overtime. There were people who Dr. Sudarshan was not happy with within the organisation. I shared his frustration. A man with his dreams being burdened with inefficient staff – I tried to work harder than ever to make sure that I could reduce some of this burden.
Then I moved to Mysore. Here I saw Dr. Sudarshan occasionally, I saw the organisation completely dysfunctional in his absence in Mysore, I began to question the sustainability of the efforts. I heard stories – the tribal school wasn’t doing well, alcoholism was a problem among the tribals, so was unemployment. Tribals were not given any important place within the VGKK organisation, their presence was mainly a token gesture, the Community Health Insurance was in a mess, accounts were being fudged. More so any research into the tribal or Community Health Insurance was strictly monitored and regulated. Staff were roundly abused and beaten by Dr. Sudarshan. I was abused verbally. Dr. Sudarshan was very insulting, very aggressive, very threatening. I became angry. I felt that I didn’t deserve this kind of treatment. The other staff welcomed me into their group. They said I was now facing what they faced every day. Every Sunday it was the same, Dr. Sudarshan would come in, every staff had to be in attendance, most of them including me would be roundly abused. I felt that my Sunday was being wasted. I resented having to leave my children behind to get yelled at. I felt that these meetings were pointless because it was a Catch 22 situation. One got yelled at for doing things and one got yelled at for not doing things. There was just no right thing. This apart, the projects I was being made responsible for were simply beyond my capability – I was in charge of Community monitoring for four districts, ASHA training for four districts, Data monitoring and monthly feedback for 26 Primary Health Centres, research activities by MedicoSocial workers and foreign graduates, Vision centres in 16 PHCs, Dorabji Tata trust PHCs, Population Foundation of India projects in 9 PHCs. I had to send in Quarterly reports, attend meetings and ensure proper functioning. Apart from this, I had to organise workshops, ensure communication with different people and organisations. I also had to raise two children aged 6 and 7 single handedly…………………
I was getting yelled at on a regular basis, every day there were three or four new expectations and demands. So one Sunday I refused to go saying I had to go to Church. I got several phone calls which I finally refused to answer. The next thing that I knew was that two of the staff had come to my house – one sitting outside in the jeep and one inside my house with strict instructions from Dr. Sudarshan ‘not to come back without me’. I felt that this was complete intrusion of my privacy and that too on a Sunday……… I refused to go.
I think I became a bit lax then. I felt that I couldn’t cope anyway, so I stopped trying too much. This made the yelling even worse………. I started exploring other job options.
Suddenly my salary was slashed by three thousand Rupees – just like that, out of the blue. I was also given money as advance which I had to pay back as donation. I was not comfortable with this, but was told that this was common with charitable organisations because no staff are allowed to get more than a certain amount and it didn’t go into anyone’s pocket, but just as a corpus fund to tide the organisation and its dependents through bad times.
Then it was time for the State Dissemination workshop. This was the turning point for me. I was asked to prepare the Annual report of Primary Health centres. Data came in about PHC performance. The data didn’t surprise me – the PHCs that were taken over had been very poor performing ones. Some of them had shown good improvement in all indicators, some in some indicators, some had not changed much whereas a few had deteriorated. I thought that it was appreciable that there were positive changes and I made up the report. When Dr. Sudarshan saw the reports , he was outraged. He called in the supervisors, he was angry. Everyone was yelled at including me. He insisted that the bad reports were wrong. Seven times the Project co-ordinators were sent back to different parts of the State, and seven times they came with different reports – which each trip of the co-ordinators Infant mortality rates looked lesser, maternal mortality rates looked lower, couple protection rates got higher, immunisation rates got better. I refused to analyse the data. I said that the data changed each time the supervisors went back and got better. Dr. Sudarshan asked me not to torture him. He asked me ‘ Are you trying to say that I am a dictator’.
I began to go into silent spells. When he yelled, I just became silent. This frustrated him, and he would begin showing his anger against me on other staff, he would hit male employers, he would use abusive language, he would ask junior staff like the office assistant to ask me and quiz me about my work.
The other aspect of the State Dissemination workshop was the External Audit. This was done by the Institute of Health Management and Research. The Audit was a collaborative effort by Dr. Sudarshan and Dr. Kishore. The payoff was that Dr. Sudarshan would help IHMR acquire some land for their organisation. The IHMR report was entirely made up by Karuna trust. The outcome – a clear concordance between the IHMR ‘External’ Audit and Karuna trust Annual report. Every aspect of the Audit was controlled and directed by Dr. Sudarshan which Dr. Kishore willingly obliged.
The State dissemination workshop had only appreciative invitees. Dissentors were not given an invite. Significantly absent from the Workshop were the ‘dissenters’ against Public Private Partnership.
Around this time, the other co-ordinator (In whose absence I had taken over) was due to come back. The change in Dr. Sudarshan was shocking and significant. He treated me like garbage. He refused to talk to me, he communicated to me only through others, he didn’t introduce me to visitors, he cut down any of my suggestions or any comment I made at any meetings. Suddenly Dr. Prashanth was the golden boy.
Then Dr. Sudarshan told me one day that if I had a problem for money I should look for a part – time job somewhere else. When I was looking for the job, I realised that I had no more to do in Karuna Trust. I opted for a full time job and left.
Now when I hear about all the awards going to Dr. Sudarshan, I am left wondering………. Will I ever find a real role model? Is it possible in the real world? I am okay to accept personal weaknesses like anger, even abusive language, but can I accept disrespect, disregard, inhumaneness, lying. Can I accept that power underlies apparent altruism?
Can I accept that in the end, the community may not really be much better for all the awards and medals that one receives?
Can I as a human being truly say that I will not be this way one day – that one day, my personal glory and power becomes the single driving force for my actions?
I hope that when the day comes, I have the humility to know it…………..and accept that I have fallen in my own eyes for what I once dreamed for myself and what I once dreamed for the world.