“Awards and recognitions are morale-boosters not only for the individual but also the institution.”
That was how Dr. RV Ramani, founder and managing trustee of the Sankara Eye Foundation India, responded to a question about him receiving the Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian award, bestowed by the Indian president, Ram Nath Kovind.
Quoting Swami Dayananda Saraswathi who once explained the significance of awards as an evaluating scale, Ramani said they evaluate and confirm “whether you have chosen a right cause, whether your approach has been transparent and appropriate and whether the benefit has reached the society at large.”
He added, “In other words, it is an evaluation by the citizens, which is nothing short of Bhagavad Prasad – prasadam from the Lord Almighty. This is how I look at the Padma Shri award.”
Ramani felt it could inspire many more likeminded people to take up a common good for the country.
“Let us all together ensure that no one is needlessly blind in our country,” he told indica.
Asked about Sankara’s plans for the next decade, Ramani said, “The next three Sankara Eye Hospitals are coming up in Indore, Panvel and Hyderabad.”
Born in Coimbatore in 1947, Ramani went on to head one of the largest super-specialty eye hospitals in India. He works with his wife Dr. Radha Ramani on these projects in an honorary capacity.
With help from philanthropic families, companies and the Sankara Eye Foundation-USA, he established a network of nine super-specialty eye hospitals in seven states of India, with more than 2,200 beds.
At the hospitals, 80 percent of the beneficiaries are the underprivileged who receive free services, while the remaining 20 percent are patients who can afford to pay. Thus the comfortably off subsidize the poor.
Sankara Eye Hospitals have so far performed 1.8 million free eye surgeries. The rural outreach eye care program, Gift of Vision, initiated in 1990, serves the rural population in 92 districts in the seven states.
Gift of Vision has so far conducted over 26,138 rural outreach camps, screened 4.8 million people and performed over 1.8 million free vision restoration surgeries. Rainbow, a preventive eye care program for children started in the year 1996, has screened over 6 million school children for undetected visual defects and provided care – everything from spectacles to surgery – wherever required.
Murali Krishnamurthy, founder and executive chairman of Sankara Eye Foundation, USA, told indica, “Dr.Ramani is our mentor, one with unlimited energy and enthusiasm.”
Krishnamurthy said his uncle P Balasubramaniam, a volunteer at the first Sankara Eye Hospital in Coimbatore, suggested he consider the cause. It was a request from Ramani that finally led to him starting the American wing with his brother, K Sridharan.
“We were not ready but things changed after my brother visited the hospital in 1997. He was so impressed with the quality work, the cleanliness of the hospital, the staff culture etc, that we finally started SEF, USA in 1998 along with my brother’s neighbor in San Jose, Ahmad Khushnood Kazi of Lahore,” Krishnamurthy said.
“It was a life changer for all of us. Our inspiration comes from Dr. Ramani who, along with his wife Dr Radha Ramani, has dedicated his life to this movement. They both gave up their thriving medical practice for this cause,” he said. “I can call Dr. Ramani any time of the day or night and he always picks up the call. Just listening to him for some time gives us relief and confidence.”
Krishnamurthy said he always talk to the hospital staff in India, and found them very motivated and in love with their work, whether they are drivers, cooks, paramedical staff or anything else.
“They tell me that Dr Ramani donates all his awards to the hospital. They tell me ‘We are not a part of one or two eye hospitals, we are part of a movement to eradicate curable blindness,’” Krishnamurthy said. “Dr. Ramani deserves the Padma Shri and we wish him a long and healthy life and we look forward to his continued enthusiasm, motivation and energy to rid the country of curable blindness.”