February 22, 2020
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A Vegetable Vendor Trades Her Life-Savings To Build A Ward For The Poor

A Vegetable Vendor Trades Her Life-Savings To Build A Ward For The Poor
Ahospital might be an everyday sight for many of us, but most of us never think too much about helping the inmates unless they're related to us. Perhaps even the thought does not occur to us. But it did to Binnibai Sonkar. For sixty years the lady sat outside the Dau Kalyan Singh district hospital in Raipur selling vegetables. And all the while, while struggling to eke out a living and educating her two children, the question was always at the back of her mind. Her deepest desire was to help harried patients and their relatives, especially the ones who came from a background similar to hers. But money always put a reality check on her benevolence.

Despite that, Binnibai was destined to take this industrial town by storm. One fine day, this vegetable vendor left several leading industrialists and businessmen feeling very small as she sold off her two-acre plot and donated her life's savings, amounting to Rs 10 lakh, to the district hospital to build a ward for the poor and those who come from far-flung villages. The calling of the spirit had been answered. Now, this woman lives in her one-room shack, totally at peace with herself. People might call her the crazy woman who gifted away her old-age insurance and her children's future, but for Binnibai, the thought that thousands of needy people are receiving help is adequate compensation.

The Binnibai Sonkar ward was built by the Rogi Kalyan Samiti and was inaugurated by state CM Digvijay Singh. The CM was reportedly so overwhelmed with her story that he offered to underwrite the expenditure. But he hadn't reckoned with her pride. In her half-audible old-age stutter she reminded him that while he had a lot of work to do, she was only doing her own. Today, Binnibai is a member of the district Rogi Kalyan Samiti - the body that runs the hospital. Other members include the collector, the chief medical officer and the minister in charge of the district.

Says Sudhi Ranjan Mohanty, an ias officer who'd virtually formulated the Rogi Kalyan Samiti project for the whole state and currently takes an active interest in its functioning, "The state government had long planned for people's participation in the public health system. It was just gathering dust in files till Binnibai showed the way out." With her compassionate act Binnibai has inspired several people to do something for the public health system which is languishing because of a severe resource crunch and general apathy. Her inspiration has led people in places as far off as Indore and Mandsaur to follow her example with small contributions. Mohanty wholeheartedly avers that Binnibai's contribution in triggering off a wave of goodwill has enabled the state government to collect several crores in small contributions all over the state. This has greatly helped in the running of district hospitals which are the main referral centres for the whole district.

Making a donation was not the end of Binnibai's efforts. She now attends every fortnightly meeting of the Rogi Kalyan Samiti. "I may not understand everything they talk about but I make sure that patients and their relatives are not strewn all over the hospital corridors," she says. Understandably, Binnibai has become quite well-known at the hospital and poor patients routinely approach her for help. While she is unable to help them financially, she requests doctors on their behalf and it usually does the trick. At one of the meetings she suggested that since the regular hospital staff was unable to clean the wards twice a day, some unemployed youth from her community could be given the job on a contract basis. There was some opposition from the unions but the suggestion was implemented and predictably, the sections maintained by the contractual staff are invariably cleaner. Binnibai isn't done yet, she plans to continue doing whatever she can to help patients and their relatives in distress. She can be contacted at the Sonkar Para, Purani Basti, Raipur.

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