Former Chief of Protocol and Public Relations, AIIMS, Delhi
“Pioneer in Indian “Healthcare PR Domain”, who applied his passion for serving the society and helping the needy in his unique style—by building a bridge between AIIMS the community."
Dash was born in a remote village of Kendrapara District of Odisha of 1940s. He was lucky to have parents with passion for educating their first child. A maternal uncle served as an example for his higher studies.
Social responsibility appears to be inherent to his character, which is evident since childhood. One incident confirms that.
There was a conflict over a piece of village land between two groups of residents in his village, popularly referred to as “80 vs. 11”. He used both tactics and his passion for solving the problem without further damage to the village through the conflict aggravating. He persuaded one of his friends from the other group and both decided to sit on a ‘fast’ in the village temple till both the groups agreed on an amicable resolution. He was below 16 then. The result was obvious.
Later in the college life too, he got involved in a massive state-wide students strike in 1964. This was perhaps the last apolitical students strike in India on such scale. However, Dash claims, the fallout of this strike changed the political scenario of Odisha forever. During this period, he came in contact with famous personalities of Odisha like Dr. Radhanath Rath, legendary editor of Samaja, the most prominent Odia daily in its 95th year now and Smt. Rama Devi, eminent Gandhian and Sarvoday activist of her time. “Till I finished my college education in 1969, I was a student volunteer practically in every relief team reaching out to flood and cyclone affected people under the aegis of Orissa Relief Committee”, says Dash.
In 1969 the Government of India was preparing for a grand celebration of the Birth Centenary of Mahatma Gandhi. For this the Gandhian institutions throughout the country had been asked to celebrate the occasion in a befitting manner and also to identify suitable individuals who could be involved in various national programmes. After his M.A. examination, Dash was enjoying a long holiday in his village when, in the last week of September 1969, he received a post card from Rama Devi, asking him to urgently go to Bombay to join the programme “Taking Gandhi to young India”. “Apparently she had sent my name to the National Celebration Committee without my knowledge”, says Dash. This was a ‘Railway Mobile Exhibition’, with exhibits in audio-visual form, mounted in 12 integrated coaches of a 22-coach train which moved across the country for one year to educate the younger generation, particularly the students, about the life and message of Gandhiji. Along with volunteers from different parts of the country he lived and worked on this train for one year. “I served as a volunteer (coordination). It was a great experience in seeing and understanding India.”
To earn a living, he moved to Delhi and initially worked with National Book Trust, India for 10 years and then joined AIIMS as its first Public Relations and Publications Officer in 1981 and retired in 2007 as Chief of Protocol and Public Relations.
At AIIMS it took him a few months to understand the nature of his job responsibility and the functioning of a multi-speciality hospital. Once in command, he decided to reach out to the community through preventive healthcare messages. An ideal opportunity came when AIIMS planned to launch a series of programmes as part of its silver jubilee celebration in 1981-82. Dash placed a proposal before the committee for organising a series of public lectures on medical subjects meant for a non-medical audience. The then Director and some important committee members were sceptical about the success of such a programme. “However, when I explained the format one of the professors strongly supported me and the programme was approved”, says Dash.
These lectures were designed basically as preventive healthcare tips in simple language meant for an average educated non-medical audience. The speaker would be the topmost specialist in the subject. The duration of the lecture not to exceed 30 minutes, followed by about 30 minutes question- answer session. The lecture was scheduled every Friday evening with a prior public notice. This programme went under the banner “AIIMS Public Lecture” which, at the end of the year, became hugely popular and continued for a couple of years even after the close of the silver jubilee celebrations. In fact, Dash says, this concept of disseminating scientific knowledge to common people was later picked up by many other organisations like CSIR, INSA etc. He never claimed any credit for this pioneering idea.
As part of his job responsibility, Dash was not required to deal with patients or their grievances. With Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister, central government directed that every organisation having public dealings must have a grievance redressal cell with an officer heading it. AIIMS, always with an overflowing patient load, has had a huge number of patients and their relatives complaining for poor service or no service. The then Director Dr. Sneh Bhargava asked Dash to be in the OPD area for 2 hours daily to look into the grievances of the patients. This was a huge task which not only tested his patience but also threw several challenges to prove one’s skills in problem solving almost daily. This phase gave him an opportunity to learn a lot about practice of medicine in India. There is a huge gap between the doctor’s approach and the patient’s expectation, says Dash.
At AIIMS, starting from the Director to the lift attendant, everyone is approached by someone or the other to facilitate a patient. Sometimes a hospital attendant proves more resourceful than a doctor, says Dash.
Dash was the spokesman of AIIMS for many years. He also looked after the protocol responsibility.
In many ways, he became the pioneer in Healthcare PR. Senior media professionals, who know Dash personally, say that his office was the hub of activity in the Institute. “If you have any work at AIIMS. Just go to Dash’s office and it would be done”, says a journalist who covered health for a national daily till 2001.
Dash says, “My most satisfying years of service to the society and to individuals were my 27 years with AIIMS. On behalf of all those who have benefited, I express my gratitude to all the good doctors and Lord Jagannatha. You see the range of activities and the level of involvement. It is not possible to quantify. Even today someone, who came to me 15 years ago from a small town in Bihar or Odisha, occasionally calls to express his gratitude and enquires about my wellbeing.”
Beyond the calling of his job Dash continued nurturing his interest in literature, art and social work also.
From day one in Delhi he has been associated with various socio-cultural organisations in Delhi and other states. His main focus has been how to help others and contribute to the society. He feels, sustainable work is possible with group effort but over years there is a steady decline in voluntary spirit among youth. No wonder, he says, even the NGOs have no volunteers; the associates are mostly paid volunteers. In such a scenario, the best course is to serve the society and the motherland with one’s individual capacity and capability.
His strategy has been to serve the needy and the society primarily through individual effort. If at any point the system can be mobilised for resources, that would be an added advantage.
He continues with the same approach in other spheres of activities too. He says, “ We are living in bad times. We see in front of us people are changing fast, values are degenerating fast, families and society are disintegrating. People have no respect for democratic values; individuals are getting intolerant of other’s point of view.”
In the present day society, he says, rationality is at its lowest. Greed and arrogance are all pervasive–insatiable greed for money and power.
He is angry that independent India has failed his generation. Dreams get shattered with every passing day. This happens to millions of Indians every day. Maybe, he says, only a few thousand families in this great civilization live their dreams.
He keeps busy with writing and reading. He pursues some of his commitments in socio-cultural segment including spreading Jagannatha chetana.