You will Feel touched by her Work for Leprosy patients!Apr 30, 2019
1. Greetings Dr Renuka Ramakrishnan. You are a highly successful doctor as well as a social reformer. This is a combination that we don’t see very often. Which is your favourite role among the two? Why is it so?
Well, this is a difficult question. But, I would say that I am more of a social reformer because being a doctor is also a contributing factor to social wellness and so that would also come under social work for me. So, I am honoured to say that I have the opportunity to make the lives of people better and making the society a better place. Apart from that, I am also very happy to be doing humanitarian work that is most needed at present.
2. Can you tell us a little about your family background?
I am 56 years old and I am married. My husband’s name is Mr Ramakrishnan and he is the Managing Director of Precia Molen India Limited which is a France-based company. I have a son, Santosh Ramakishnan and his wife’s name is Sindhu. My daughter Pratibha is also a doctor by profession and is going to pursue her MD in Paediatrics. My husband and I have our own family Trust called Mangalam Charitable Trust. It is named after my husband’s native place which is Thenmadhimangalam near Tiruvannamalai. This is in remembrance of his parents and my parents as well. We do a lot of charity through this Trust and also help to empower the village from where we hail.
3. You have an exemplary ongoing service record of 28 years. What is your inspiration? What keeps you going amidst challenging situations?
Yes I have been working for the last 28 years. I wanted to become a doctor ever since I was a kid. Particularly, I have wanted to work to help Leprosy patients. I did my studies in JIPMER, Pondicherry and specialised in dealing with Leprosy. I have been working as a dermatologist and leprologist after that and I am presently with Gremaltes Hospital in Chennai.
I believe that every human being needs to be treated with respect no matter what state he/she is in. I have always wanted to bring the awareness in society that not all Leprosy patients have conditions that are infections. These patients are often looked down upon and this disturbs me. They are humans too, right? They don’t ask for money or gifts or anything. All they ask if for love and affection and that is really lacking in our society today. I think this attitude of people must change. I wish for an inclusive society and inclusive families that treat these patients with respect. I want to work for the same till my last breath and I want to see more youngsters take up this work as well.
I have been inspired by Mother Teresa when it comes to helping Leprosy patients. That was in my childhood. But, one of my biggest inspirations is my dad who was in the army. Many of my other family members were also in the army and it was ingrained in my blood that service to the country is the highest kind of service. I am also inspired by Dr Abdul Kalam ji for his great work. And, I have drawn a lot of inspiration from Dr Muthulakshmi who started the Adyar Cancer Institute.
When I am in challenging situation, I make sure that I think positive thoughts and I steer myself out of such situations successfully. After all, situations are man-made and are not permanent. So, I think keeping a positive mind and having the courage to face problems is the best way to deal with tough situations.
4. What do you feel are the primary social issues that we all must join hands to eradicate?
Poverty is definitely something that needs to be eradicated for a better society. Also, child sexual abuse is another issue that is a serious thing today. This has to be eliminated for a healthy society. The root cause for this is the perverted minds of people. For this to change, we need to inculcate good values and thoughts in people. I would ask parents to be very friendly with their kids so that the kids open up to them. All the social media and mobile phones are fine but make sure that the usage of these things is limited. I would also ask the kids to always share their thoughts and feeling with parents. When I was in school we had a subject called Moral Science that taught us how to behave morally. But, that is missing today. All children need to be taught about ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’ as well. I think that these things should be addressed and I’m sure that if we all work together India would become a great nation by 2030 as wished by Abdul Kalam ji.
5. What are the main health issues that need to be focussed on in our society today?
Mainly lifestyle diseases like diabetes, hypertension, vitamin and iron deficiencies have to be looked at because in olden days these diseases were not so common. It is mainly because the way that we live today is very different. We are not consuming naturally potent food. Our food is refined, adulterated or sprayed with all kinds of pesticides which affect our health in an adverse way.
Also, awareness about Tuberculosis, Leprosy, AIDS and Cancer is required. 10 years ago when I had told that about 2% of women in Chennai are affected by breast cancer, people laughed at me. But, today that has increased to 28% and it affecting even young women. Also, breast cancer affects not just women but men too. I had written an article in Dinathanthi regarding this as well. Sadly, the 2% rate has now come to breast cancer and I wish it doesn’t increase.
Women need to be given awareness about cervical cancer as well. The HPV vaccine is available for girls above 10 years and this awareness is also much required.
6. From leprosy to breast cancer, you have been instrumental in treating, helping and speaking for various issues that other people turn a blind eye to. What made you choose this path and speak out for those who are suffering? Was there any particular turning point in your life?
At the age of 16 I saw a dead-body lying on the road naked. This man had Leprosy and no one was ready to go near his body and many passersby just walked away leaving him on the road. This happened in a place near Kumbakonam. Even at that age I had the intension that the man needs to be respected and I took my dupatta and covered his private parts. Then, with the help of people I took the body to the cremation ground only to be told that Leprosy patients will not be cremated there. They said that I had to go 25 kms away from Kumbakonam where I could find a spot where I could maybe bury him if possible. They said they won’t touch Leprosy patients. When I went to that far-off place, an old man at the site was shocked to see a young girl bringing the dead body of a Leprosy patient. He fell at my feet and said that he had never seen such a thing in his life. I performed the last rites of the Leprosy patient as well. He blessed me to reach great heights in life and said that when women were not even allowed to enter burial grounds, I had come forward to do this and also said that performing the last rites for this abandoned person was one of the most humanitarian acts.
I was overwhelmed and that is the moment when I decided that I would become a doctor and help Leprosy patients. I wanted to research about bringing out a vaccine for Leprosy as well and I also got a grant from Germany to work on this. But, at some point I had to choose between getting married and going forward with the grant and I chose marriage. Of course, I am happy today for my family and my two well-raised kids. My own sister suffered from cancer and later died due to a brain tumour. So, all this makes you question what you can do to make the society better and I am very happy to be working to create awareness about Leprosy, Aids, Cancer, etc.
7. You have been a leader not just on the professional front but in your personal life as well. How difficult is it for a woman to balance both these aspects of life?
I don’t know if I am a leader but I want people to see that somewhere in life all of us have to be leaders. You might not necessarily have people follow what you say but being an inspiration is what matters. I wanted many more young doctors to choose the field of Leprosy to work in and when people see me and come into this field then that is a success for me. This is leadership for me.
Regarding work-life balance, I have never had a problem. I think that when a woman decides to take up something she can do whatever she wants. Women are very powerful and are known to be patient and loving. I got married when I was young and was taking care of my career as well as my home. I have been a hands-on mother and have always managed my time well. I think time has to be created instead of giving the excuse that there is no time.
My husband has also been very supportive and both of us have worked together to come to a good position after coming from a middle class family.
8. How do you think the rest of the family members must support for a woman to achieve what she wants to achieve in life?
All the family members including the husband and the kids should support women to achieve what she wants. They should understand that a woman is a human being and has her own dreams and aspiration.
Every person in the family, right from the in-laws, should always support women in their endeavours. All women have a shakti inside them to do something in their life. One might want to become an entrepreneur; another might want to become an astronaut. Why not? These dreams are all very powerful and should be nurtured by the rest of the family in all ways.
9. You have won the most prestigious awards for your services yet you remain grounded. What kind of values do you think are important in life?
I have received more than 120 awards from the State government and other prestigious institutions. But, I feel that these are not that important. I believe that human values are what are most important in life. If you are loving, kind and compassionate then everything else will follow. Awards and rewards are not the biggest things in life. For example, during the Chennai floods, it was timely help and food that was the most important thing for the victims. If you had given them money would they have eaten the money? So, we should always remember to be true to ourselves, and not go after anything blindly. When you are sincere, everything will come to you at the right time. Always stay humble. We don’t bring anything when we come and don’t take anything when we go but human values are what make life beautiful.
10. What are the awards that you hold close to your heart? What do they mean to you?
I received the Mother Teresa award in 2015 which was very special. Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy award was also a very special one as she is a woman who has done a lot of work for women. Amma award from the state government and the Medical Excellence Award in the field of Social Work are very close to my heart too. Gem of Tamil Nadu award also gave me a lot of satisfaction. Ezhutheni Arakattalai award which was my first award in 2013 from Tamil Sangam is very special too. All these awards came during times when I really needed motivation and these awards pushed me to keep working.
11. What are your goals for the future? In which area of the society do you wish to work more as you go forward?
My goals for the future include working towards making Abdul Kalam‘s dream a reality at least by 2030. Free education for children and girl-child education is something I want to work for. Also, I want the concept of orphanages and old-age homes to end. Instead, I want to work towards setting up inclusive families where older people are brought together with orphans and they form a family. Visually challenged people need to be supported and that is something I want to work for. HIV awareness and early diagnosis is also a very important area to work on.
I would like to do community social service and see more youngsters take this up as well. Upliftment of transgenders is very important for our society to develop. Also, child sexual abuse should end and offenders should face strict punishments in public. Moral science subject should be brought back. Poverty should be eradicated and food, water, clean air, homes and toilets should be available to all. Open defecation free villages should increase in number. No difference between human being and being human should be there as all of us who are born as human should learn to be human. All of us should work together for this.
12. You are a real inspiration to many people. What would you like to say to people who want to achieve something meaningful in life but do not know where to start?
I don’t know if I can say that I am an inspiration. I can say that many were an inspiration to me. I am a small drop in the ocean of social service. I think the one-rupee concept that we propagated has been very successful and I think that is one way in which I might have inspired some people to do good for the society. The concept is about children saving one rupee per day and then donating the saved money at the end of the year to people who are underprivileged. I think that empowering people around us is the way forward. If we imagine life to be a staircase, I would ask all the people to hold the hands of others and take them up the staircase instead of seeing who is further along or how far you can come.
Share what you have and make the world a better place. Do not hold on to ego, stay humble and be god-fearing. Be true to yourself and cultivate good thoughts. There are fantastic youngsters today and I wish that all of them are recognised. This recognition will inspire them and will make them do more and will lead to a better nation. Youngsters should also get into politics and they should make India a great nation that is free of corruption and all social problems. They should learn from people who are ahead of them and work hard.