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Know better, learn to say a firm ‘no’

She’s a doctor, a teacher, a counsellor and a “listener”. Chand Bhargava is that and much more to the women she treats at her Tangra and Dhapa clinics. The 40-year-old insists she has learnt more about life from them than they have from her.

“I come from a typical Sindhi business family. My father was in the diamond trade. Life in Nepal, where I was brought up, was all about parties and shopping. My college friends remember me as the girl with the nice clothes and matching bags and shoes. When I first started helping these women, it was like falling back to earth with a loud thud. I was shocked,” she recollects.

After finishing pre-med in Pune, the general physician came to Calcutta “by accident”, to study medicine in RG Kar Medical College and Hospital (where she met her husband). That, she admits, was her first brush with reality, which jolted her out of her sheltered life. But things really changed during a difficult pregnancy, when she started spending time at the Tangra clinic, on a friend’s advice. She never left.

“At first, I couldn’t handle it. There were some cases when I just didn’t know what to do, like a 14-year-old girl who was repeatedly raped by her own uncle. I arranged three abortions for her. I kept asking her why she couldn’t say ‘no’.” That was 11 years ago. Despite the turmoil Bhargava went through, her determination remained intact. “I couldn’t just abandon these women. Although I am actually a childcare specialist, half my patients are women. When they come and ask you not to beat them before they tell you their problems, you can’t give up,” she says.

The mother of two has roped in several NGOs to assist her in educating these women about their rights and “making life a little lighter” for them and their children. Swayam, working with battered women and violence against them, conducts workshops at her Tangra clinic, and is planning to open a cell here to provide them with legal aid.

Bhargava conducts counselling sessions after having undergone training at Samikshani, an NGO. In 1998, she got a group of like-minded doctors together to start Children in Pain (CHIP) in Tangra, where they look after the mental, emotional and physical well-being of the kids of the area through check-ups, counselling, group-drawing and singing exercises.

The teacher of a post-graduate course on counselling at Jadavpur University is also a visiting doctor at Ashaniketan, a centre for the mentally retarded and a CINI project in Tangra.

Bhargava is now in the process of starting a hepatitis-B camp with CHIP and the Rotary Club of Calcutta Chowringhee, plus an awareness campaign titled ‘learn to say no’, through a series of workshops in school, for girls from Class IX to XII.

“It’s been a long road, fraught with changes. Some of my relatives and friends are still very upset about my work. But when my father told me he was proud of me, I knew I was doing the right thing. Ultimately, I am happy, not only with what I do, but with who and where I am,” concludes the woman who is being honoured by the Rotary Club of Calcutta Chowringhee on Wednesday.

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