To call her just a doctor would be an understatement, she is a Woman, a mother, a wife, a compassionate human being. Intelligent, powerful, graceful, humble and the list could go on if I had to choose words to describe her. Her work in the field of Gynaecology and her achievements are monumental. To list her awards and achievements would be naive, for it would require another article altogether. Incredible woman of India brings to you the story of Dr. Sipra Raychaudhuri and her incredible journey through life both as a doctor and as a woman.
I met her at her Chandannagar home, where she fusses over my Coffee and cookies, just like any other mother. She unfolds her life in front of me so easily as if it is nothing, as if her achievements are of any girl next door. I have probably never met any other woman who has achieved so much in life, yet is so fully rooted to the ground.
Sipra was born in Bolpur, in the year 1949. The family had just been uprooted from Bangladesh during the Indo-Pak Partition.
Her early childhood memories are of a scattered life, they couldn’t bring much across the border. There are no family heirlooms she can call her own. Her father took up a job at the age of 19 at the Post and Telegraph to support the family. He had 6 brothers and 2 sisters, the entire family lived together in a rented place. They went through many hardships, but never once compromised on living condition. They went on for days without proper food, or timely meals but vanity was such a thing that they preferred to go empty stomached than live out on the streets. Whatever little money the family made was put into renting the house, and keep the household running. Life was never smooth, but always eventful and happy.
Sipra is eldest of the 8 sisters. Every time another girl was born her grandmother would sit down and cry. She prayed for a boy in the family but one after another eight girls were born. Her parents never let them feel that way though; none of them were neglected or unloved. All the girls got equal importance. Childhood passed away in poverty but in contentment. They were taught to take pride in their poverty and not to be ashamed of their condition.
Sipra says, “Being the eldest I had a lot of responsibilities from the beginning. I had a notion I would never get married as I have to look after my sisters and my family.”
Her father always wanted her to be a doctor, Even though she herself was not keen, mostly because studying medicine would require money, and that would be a pressure on her father.
When the letter arrived declaring that she has been selected to study medicine, she declined, but her father insisted that she should not throw this opportunity away. She jokingly adds that her father was a rather impractical man, and maybe that’s why he got the courage to enrol her into the course.
Studying in a college during the 70’s Kolkata is a story in itself. West Bengal was burning in a political turmoil, Sipra claims Politics was in her blood since her girlhood, anyone who was uprooted from Bangladesh and gone through the pain and turmoil automatically got sucked into politics.
She adds with great enthusiasm, “There were many kids who were rich, arriving in cars, who were from convent/English medium schools, and then there were us the middle class Bengali medium kids. Polarization happed there and we became two distinct groups, but we never felt inferior. Politics brought us together, made us friends. The college days were the best days of my life; I met my husband in college.”
She sadly adds, “We always believed the boys and girls of communist party may do something wrong but would never do anything illegal,” a notion that She can’t rely upon any more. “I have even seen my friends give their lives for this cause, but somehow, somewhere I feel our generation has failed to pass on the honesty and idealism. I feel guilty myself.”
After graduating from college she became a gazetted officer, the salary was so low, that it was non-taxable. During the period of Emergency her dad was forced to retire. So the family never got the benefit of two incomes on the same time. The entire family never really overcame the financial hurdles.
During 1976-77 it was really hard-hitting; we were young, with no social security. It was extremely difficult to gain the trust of people as a young female doctor. Being a Gynaecologist was easier, but to pursue medicine or surgery as a woman was really tough. A lot of her friends started going to UK for better job prospects and she followed suit. She left for England together with her husband. The experience was brilliant; it opened her eyes to a whole new world. Sipra says “You have to prove yourself ten times better than the local candidate, but we never felt bad, we never took it as racism. I personally never faced any discrimination at work. I always knew I would come back, I had a really great experience at UK, got opportunity to study, work, met really friendly people, my son was born there. The time in UK gave me a whole lot. ” What amazed her most about UK was people there could study even if they were poor, and also could get medical assistance, which was nonexistent in India back then and even now.
Her husband was determined that they world raise their son back in India, so they came back to India, settled in Chandannagar. We then move onto discussing her work in India. She comments on the current situation by saying, “When we see we can’t give the best possible treatment it feels really bad. A lot of times we are forced to give them medication according to their financial capability.” This was a real shocker initially, but now we are trying to overcome the shortcomings as much as we can. She adds, “People started accepted me slowly, I was happy whatever little work I could do, was for my country, for my people.”
When I ask her why did she not go back to politics, she says, “I didn’t enjoy the political scenario after coming back, so decided not to plunge back into active politics, but maintained the connections.”
I ask her about her future plans and she says, “Preventive medicine awareness programme is my vision. Will move out from active practice soon, and focus more on the field work. “
I ask her about her family, and her voice turns content and proud, “My husband has been very supportive of my work, he is also a Doctor so understands my nature of work really well. I am really fortunate to have met him. He is my best friend. And my son is a great human being, his mind his ideology, his vision is flawless. I believe he is much more talented academically than I ever was. I am very proud of him.”
We ask her to give a message to our readers, she says, “Women must earn, learn to be self-dependent. They need to be aware of the health issues regarding both their families and themselves, Or else women empowerment will remain just a word.”
Finally I ask her what defines her. She adds with a smile, “I am a woman… and that defines me.”
We at Incredible Women of India bow down to this Lady whose values and principles of life are worth millions. There is so much more about her that we would like to mention, but word constraint holds us back. This is only the tip of the iceberg. If you have known her personally you are truly one lucky being. Her dedication to her work and her family are truly admirable. A big salute to this Incredible Woman of India.
Article by: Rhiti Bose