Dr. Hanumappa Sudarshan Reddy is a Padma Shri Award (2000) recipient and a renowned social worker who has dedicated his life for the upliftment of forest tribes, mainly Soligas in Southern Karnataka. In 1994, he was awarded Right Livelihood Award, also known as Alternative Nobel Prize, for showing how tribal cultures can contribute to a process that secures the basic rights and fundamental needs of indigenous people and conserve their environment.
Sudarshan Reddy was born in Yemalur village, near Bengaluru, in the year 1950. At the age of 12 years, he decided to become a doctor when he accompanied his father to a village hospital and his father died because of lack of medical help. Later, one of his friends took him to the Ramakrishna Ashram at Basavanagudi which became a turning point in his life. The teachings of Swami Vivekananda made a huge impact on him. In 1973, he graduated from Bangalore Medical College and became a doctor. Instead of pursuing his medical practise in the cities, he approached Dr. Narasimha who was working in the tribal areas of the Nilgiris. In 1980, as an Integrated Tribal Development Project, Dr. Sudarshan started the Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra (VGKK) in the B R Hills region near Mysore.
Dr. Sudarshan started his clinic in a small hut on a rock. Initially it was difficult for his team to find patients, as the sight of new unknown people with needles and pills used to frighten the forest dwellers. Tribals started approaching them when they did not show any signs of going away. It was only after several cures that tribals started trusting the treatments of Dr. Sudarshan. Their medical facilities became a huge success in the neighbouring villages too. Starting from health, VGKK now covers education, empowerment and livelihood support, evolving into a comprehensive tribal development programme.
Taking inspiration from Swami Vivekananda’s quote “All the wealth of the world cannot help one little Indian village if the people are not taught to help themselves”, schools set up under VGKK have produced 4 PhD holders from the Soligas community, all of whom are serving their community in different ways. In schools, tribals are taught to strengthen their roots. They are taught in their own dialect and encouraged to share their knowledge about forests, traditional practices and appreciate their rich cultural heritage.
Dr. Sudarshan has held many prominent positions during his career, and has many recognitions and awards to his name. Inspired by Gandhian principles and Swami Vivekananda’s ideals, Dr. Sudarshan, a hero of the tribals, is an inspirational figure of commitment and humility.