Sulagitti Narasamma
Sulagitti Narasamma

We have all heard of Florence Nightingale and how she became a beacon of inspiration, hope and a symbol of care, compassion and courage. The world is filled with many such stories, some of which do not always make it to the headlines. Sulagitti Narasamma passed away on the 25th of December, 2018 and was born in the year 1920. While many may not have heard of her, this lady’s contribution has truly been outstanding, unbelievable and hugely inspirational. It is because of nurses and midwives like her that thousands of other brave hearts are venturing into the field with renewed vigor and courage.

Sulagitti Narasamma was no ordinary midwife from the Pavagada town situated in Karnataka’s Tumkur district. She has served her community impeccably by performing 15,000+ deliveries absolutely free of cost over a period of 70 years in several deprived ares of the State that lack proper medical equipment and facilities. In a nutshell, she has been honored with the National Citizen’s Award of India in the year 2012 for her sterling work and Padma Shri, the 4th highest civilian award in India back in the year 2018. But for Sulagitti Narasamma, it was never about recognition, laurels and rewards. It was all about strictly implementing a philosophy of serving the poor, deprived and backward with all her might in spite of the pressing financial hardships and lack of medical facilities and that too without charging a single penny. Now would you imagine that the lady was never formally educated? As your jaw drops, here’s recounting her story till the last bit.

Nuggets from her life story

Narasamma was born in 1920 in the Pavagada village in Tumkur district, at Krishnapura. Telugu being her first language, she did not get the opportunity to attend school and grew up absolutely bereft of literacy and formal education. She married Anjinappa, her husband, when she was only 12 years old. She went on to have 12 children although four of them unfortunately died at tender ages. She also had 36 grandchildren and great-grandchildren at the time of her death. Narasamma has gone on record to say that her grandmother was a midwife and Marigemma was the one who taught her these crucial skills of midwifery. She helped in delivering 5 babies of Narasamma herself and in the year 1940, when she was just 20 years old, Narasamma helped at her very first birth, i.e. the delivery of the baby of her aunt.

She then kept honing her midwifery knowledge and skills further, whenever there were nomadic tribes landing at the village. She also learnt the techniques of natural medicine preparation for women who were pregnant and soon became skilled in checking the baby’s position and overall health as well. She was reportedly skilled in detecting the foetus’ pulse while still in the womb without any instruments being used, making her a legend in those days. At 98 years in the year 2018, she had already delivered more than 15,000 babies while being called the go-to midwife of Krishnapura in a glowing epithet by locals.

The President, Shri Ram Nath Kovind presenting the Padma Shri Award to Dr. (Smt.) Sulagitti Narasamma.

She has received several other awards including the Kitturu Rani Chennamma Award in 2013, Karnataka State Government’s D. Devaraj Urs Award in 2012, Karnataka Rajyotsava Award in the year 2013 and her Honorary Doctorate was awarded from the Tumkur University in the year 2014. She was admitted in November 2018 to the Siddaganga Hospital and Research Center, being referred later on to the BGS Hospital on 29th November, 2018. She passed away at the BGS Gleneagles Global Hospitals at Kengeri in Bangalore on 25th December at 98 years of age. Chronic lung disease was her primary ailment which led to her passing. Her body was kept at the Tumakuru Glass House for the society and people to pay their respects. Several Ministers, dignitaries and thousands of citizens came to pay their last respects, in a fitting tribute for the departed soul. She was finally laid to rest with complete State honors at the Gangasandra village near Tumakuru City. Half an acre of the 1 acre plot was kept for a memorial as well.

Narasamma is survived by four sons including the noted activities Pavagada Sriram and three daughters along with her 36 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She was visited by ex-Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa in the hospital as well.

How this real-life angel attained much-needed recognition

There are some people who are real-life angels and Narasamma was truly one of them. She contributed towards the safe births of thousands of babies while keeping their mothers secure without medical equipment or charging any money in deprived and backward areas of the State. However, it was still surprising that her amazing work was not acclaimed outside her village until the year 2007 when noted writers Ba Ha Ramakumari and Annapoorna Venkatananjappa coincidentally saw the grey-haired gentle lady admonishing Pavagada Sriram, her son, for getting his pregnant wife admitted in a nursing home for the delivery of their child. They quickly absorbed the sheer scale of the lady’s achievement in the bargain.

This led to her being nominated by them for the women achiever award at the district level which brought several other awards including the prestigious D Devaraj Urs award from the Government in 2012 followed by several others and eventually her honorary doctorate in 2014 while the Padma Shri was conferred on her in 2018. She learnt everything from Marigemma, her grandmother, who came from Andhra Pradesh’s Madakashira. Marigemma reportedly trekked in excess of 9 kilometers to come and meet Narasamma at Krishnapur while bringing highly nutritious food gifted to her by several families.

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Remembering an icon

The name Sulagitti itself translates to delivery work and how apt it is for this angel in human guise who has truly perfected selfless service into an inspiring and iconic example for everyone to follow. It goes without saying that Narasamma has also helped her daughters and daughters-in-law deliver their babies along with helping her grandchildren at the same time. She has also taught more than 180 students including Jayamma, her daughter, who is a successful midwife in recent times. While earning accolades from the whole country, Governments, thousands of grateful families and nursing professionals/midwives, feminists have also hailed her for helping claim back reproductive health and justice for women themselves while tapping into ancestral knowledge and self-determination.

Truly, words fall short when it comes to describing the sheer impact of Sulagitti Narasamma on her community and the country at large. It only suffices to say that she is definitely the Midwife of all Midwives and possibly the biggest source of pride and inspiration for nursing and midwifery professionals in India.