Subhasini Mistry’s world came crashing down at the age of 23 years in 1967 when her husband, a vegetable vendor, died of gastroenteritis due to lack of medical care. As he suffered in pain, Mistry ran from pillar to post for help in Hanspukur, near Kolkata, but to no avail. Death took her husband out of his misery, but left Mistry, a housewife, at a crossroads. And thus began her long struggle.
With four children to raise, Mistry, however, found a new mission in life: to build a hospital for the poor. “After my husband passed away, I promised myself that I will build a hospital for the poor, so that no one else has to go through what I did. People should get medicines and treatment on time,” she says.
To earn a livelihood after her husband’s death, Mistry moved to Dhapa in eastern Kolkata in the early 1970s and set up a roadside vegetable stall. Soon, she started earning around Rs 500 a month. “I opened a savings account in the post office and deposited money whenever I could… sometimes Rs 50, sometimes Rs 200,” she recalls.
She saved for almost two decades, during which time she worked as a maid, vegetable vendor, construction site worker, etc.
In 1992, Mistry, with her savings, bought one acre of land in Hanspukur for Rs 10,000 and requested the villagers to donate money for the hospital. Soon, a thatched shed came up, serving as a dispensary. She even requested some doctors to attend to patients, and soon they had six physicians. “They would work for free and visit the hospital every now and then,” she recalls.
But they still needed funds to build a pakka hospital, so Mistry and her son Ajoy, who studied to become a doctor himself, knocked on the doors of then local member of Parliament, Malini Bhattacharya, who helped them raise funds.
Humanity Hospital finally saw the light of the day in 1996. Today, the two-floor hospital, spread across 9,000 sq feet, has 45 beds. Treatment is provided to the poor for less than `10 and surgeries are performed for less than Rs 5,000. They are now planning to build another floor to accommodate more patients. A group of trustees—including doctors, citizens and serving IPS officers—have helped the cause of the hospital, which now has specific departments such as gynaecology, cardiology, ENT, urology, oncology, diabetology and surgery.
But the credit goes to the woman who started it all. It’s no wonder then that Mistry was awarded the Padma Shri, the country’s fourth-highest civilian award, this year.