Report by Badal Tah; Rayagada : At about wee hours of last Monday, Padmasri Shanti Devi felt chest pain and shifted to the hospital at Gunupur, where she was declared brought dead. Being in wheel chair, she recently received Padmasri from President, who came down from the dais to felicitate her. She was 88 years.
Accompanied by her husband Late Dr.Ratan Das, she started her work with the tribal communities of Sankhulipadar village near Therubali and other peripheral villages of Rayagada during the year 1953. She was personally treating the yaws, a tropical skin disease that causes large red swellings and leprosy patients. Yaws was eradicated from that region after she continuously worked for 3-4 years. Leprosy also did not spread. Alongwith this work, she taught the children of the village. She even cultivated cotton in her backyard and produced yarn, then clothes out of the yarn. Used those clothes for themselves. Over a period of time, she started nurturing destitute tribal girls by establishing a service institution named Seva Samaj. Many girls of undivided Koraput districts have got the opportunity to be educated and living a self-reliant life. She became one of the prominent woman leader in having alliance with Vinoba Bhabe’s Bhudan movement in Odisha. Distributing land received through Bhoodan, depositing the distribution document in tehsil office & getting those land documents approved by Tehsildar, etc were their focus of work.
According to her writing, which was translated by this correspondent,”We get lots of service from this society, which takes care of us from our childhood upto our death. We get from this society our maintenance, education, health, social relationships, love from friend & relatives, assistance during emergencies, etc. So, we have a duty towards the society. We need to return those to the society before we leave this earth. We have to pay back to the society in the form of loving all, stand with all during their agony, serve the ill with all kind of humanness. These tasks can be done by people’s representatives in a special manner because they are elected by people to Lok Sabha to serve and assist in administrative works. These works are possible if one decreases one’s need. One needs to free oneself from greed. The more the need, the more will be the greed for man. Greed is the reason for all kind of downfalls.”
Her message “Naxals and Govt should shed their violence and counter-violence activities and come together for a dialogue to jointly decide the approaches for peace. There is no way other than this” during four times Shanti Yatras(Peace march) from Malkangiri to Mayurbhanj & even to Maoist areas of Chhatisgarh & Andhra Pradesh still reminisced by he followers in the march. She always stressed on a self introspection process. If one is really serious, one must adopt a single and simple principle of Gandhi in one’s own life. A person who changes his own value base can only attract youths to follow a path endowed with morale and principles. One has to go beyond party-politics, age, religion and engage with and strengthen the civil society peace building initiatives, said Santi Devi. She lived a Gandhian life in true spirit.
Her last rite was solemnized on the bank of Bansadhara River where floral tributes were given by Minister Sri Jagannath Saraka, Collector Sri Saroj Mishra, SP Sri Vivekananda Sharma, Rayagada MLA Sri Makaranda Muduli, Gunupur MLA Sri Raghunath Gomango, Odisa Sarvodaya Samaj Secretary Sri Badal Tah, Odisha Adibasi Manch State Convenor Smt Bidulata Huika, OUWJ President Sri Jogeswar Das, Secretary Sri Dipak Prusty, Octogenarian Gandhian & Sarvodaya Samaj President Sri Jayaram Jena, FARR coordinator Sri Bijaya Baboo, NAWO State Convenor Smt Pramila Swain, Seva samaj Secretary Sushri Rajeswari Dalai and several other dignitaries. Guard of honour was given by state police during which the tri-colour flag was covered on her body. Her only son Sri Sidharth Das conducted the last rites following the Covid guidelines.