When Baba Amte visited Hemalkasa in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra in 1973, he found the condition of the local tribe, The Madia Gonds, appalling. Malnutrition, malaria, tuberculosis and leprosy were rife. Illiteracy was total and medical care unheard of. There were hardly any roads worth mentioning. The area would remain cut off from civilization during the monsoons and their aftermath for about 6 months.
Although the conditions were daunting, Baba’s younger son Dr. Prakash, a surgeon and his wife Mandakini, an anesthetist volunteered to work among the Madias. In 1974, they constructed a small hut for themselves and a bigger hut for patients on an area of 50 acres given by the Maharashtra State Govt. in 1973. This was the beginning of their cottage hospital. Initially the tribals were totally suspicious of the newcomers. Language was also a big barrier since the tribal language was entirely different from Marathi, the mother tongue of Prakash and Mandakini.
Over 1973-74, by learning the tribal language and by their compassionate behavior the doctor couple gained the confidence of the tribals and established a reputation for serving them, often by carrying out surgical operations in the presence of the patients’ kith and kin, under primitive conditions and poor light from kerosene lanterns.
Today, over three decades of the selfless service of Prakash and Mandakini have not gone unrewarded. They are referred to as the Schweitzer couple of India and in 1995, the generous Prince of Monaco (Europe), issued a postage stamp in their name, in order to honor them. The Indian government has also awarded them the Padmashree, the highest national civilian award.