SOMYA Pocha, a Madiya-Gond tribal, is "Doctorji" at Medpalli. His village lies in Naxal-infested Gadchiroli district, a few kms off Lok Biradari Prakalp in Hemalkasa where the Amte family has tried, since '73, to cure the malaise of neglected healthcare in Maharashtra.
Pocha, a dropout of LBP's ashram school, earns a meagre Rs 100 a month. But he enjoys helping villagers who, till now, had been serviced only by powerful pujaris. The "jhooti-bhooti" invoked spirits that invariably failed when they were racked by the district's scourges—cerebral malaria; TB; scabies; gastroenteritis; bites by wild animals, explains Vilas Manohar, volunteer and son-in-law of Baba Amte.
Pocha may not be trained to handle complications. But he hung around the doctor couple, Dr Manda and Prakash Amte for six years. Today he keeps a neat register listing patients, their ills, treatment, gives injections, prescribes and disburses tablets for fevers, stitches small cuts. He is always on call at his "clinic" before and after he returns home from his daily grind of herding cattle or working the fields. But most importantly, he can direct severely ill patients to health centres that handle emergencies. This, more than the odd Crocin or Vitamin that he disburses, saves tribal lives. But Pocha is not a lone Robin Hood. Volunteers are streaming in from neighbouring areas.
That the Madiyas are taking healthcare seriously is evident from the fact that four tribals are currently studying medicine. And the dependence on witch doctors is on the wane. Says a volunteer: "Ever since pujaris themselves started bringing their sick children to our health centres, we knew we had won the battle."