The story of MGIMS and Kasturba Hospital revolves around a nondescript village called Shegaon in the Wardha district. Mahatma Gandhi arrived here in the summer of 1936, and the village—Gandhiji renamed it Sevagram—soon catapulted into the national limelight. In 1938, during a visit to Sevagram to see her brother (and Gandhiji’s secretary, Sri Pyarelalji) twenty-two years old Sushila met Mahatma Gandhi. Dr Nayar is an alumnus of Lady Hardinge Medical College (Delhi) and John Hopkins School of Public Health (USA). On Gandhiji’s request she first set up a dispensary at Sevagram, training volunteers to fight the cholera epidemic and providing basic medical care to villagers. It was but a natural progression for Dr Nayar to establish MGIMS in 1969, after three decades of hands on experience serving the rural hinterlands of Vidarbha. This was born of an interest expressed in 1964 by India’s Prime Minister, Sri Lal Bahadur Shastri who wondered if starting a medical school in a village could motivate medical students to serve rural communities. Dr. Sushila Nayar worked relentlessly for five years to translate this dream into a reality.
MGIMS enrolled its first batch of medical students in 1969 introducing them to the principles Gandhiji held close to his heart. Wearing khadi, taking part in all-religion prayers and shramdam, practising vegetarianism and tobacco, alcohol free code of conduct thus came with the territory. For many of us this was so different to the life we lived before becoming ‘Sevagramites’ but one that left its permanent mark on us some way or other. Dr Sushila Nayar was the founder president and director of the institute until her death on 3 January 2001. Her life revolved around MGIMS. Badi Bahenji (as we all called her – affectionately and out of awe) shaped many batches of student doctors and played a significant role in the adults we became. Upholding her legacy and fulfilling her dreams for an equitable, rural facing health service is a thought that many an alumnus holds close to the heart. Eighty years since Badi Bahenji first gave shape to Gandhiji’s vision, alumni across batches continue to keep burning the torch of rural development and holistic health care to ensure its light reaches the poorest of poor.
Oustide of Sevagram and MGIMS, Dr Sushila Nayar was a central figure in the development of health care programs and educational institutes in India for more than 40 years. During her service as cabinet minister of health, emergency medical services were established and many fundamental health programs were begun, including treatment and control of infectious killer diseases such as malaria, venereal disease, tuberculosis, and leprosy. Her awe-inspiring work to limit the social evil of leprosy and rehabilitate patients evokes admiration and love to this day.