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The venue is high-end Budhil Park Hotel and the graceful lady occupying the owner’s chair is a doctor. But if you expect a conversation on panache and parties or medical doctrines, you are way off the mark as Dr.Shirin Rahman has her eyes and ears only for the under-served women who are victims of poverty, ignorance, abuse and alcoholism. For most physicians, who open their own practice or take a position at hospitals, the opportunity to take up welfare missions is difficult. But for Dr.Shirin, who schedules her medical assignments around her NGO Chaitanya Sravanthi (CS), it is an instinctive and intentional concern. CS, a conglomeration of self-help groups, facilitates hapless women to realise their dreams of financial independence. “That is the perfect cure for all the ills plaguing the underprivileged women,” insists the amiable doctor.

It is a common knowledge that such lofty missions cannot be accomplished without at least a few hitches. Not even once does she refer to the hardships or hurdles she has faced along the way, displaying a rare passion and positive outlook. It is little wonder that people in more than 7,000 households take her name with great reverence before they prostrate before the God. Here is her story in her own words....

Tales of triumph
Two accomplishments that are dear to my heart are- one - an illiterate (now a proactive member of CS) who could not handle her domestic finances now manages her group’s finances and bank transactions. Her group was the first to get a handsome loan in 1999; two- our successful fight against VPT pollution in NGT. No politician dared to take up cudgels for that. The judgement was given in favour of CS. Now VPT has to implement all norms to keep the locality pollution-free.

My husband Dr.Rahman launched NGO, Chaitanya Sravanthi, on 8th Nov 1987 to reach healthcare to the less blessed. After he got elected as the MLA, I took it over and fine-tuned the focus on women empowerment. It is now a monolith with an executive committee of 40 members and 550 self-help groups. These groups cater to 7000 women spread over six wards. Our aim is to make women financially stable and self sustaining. These women used to depend on their husbands for every single rupee. This helplessness made them fall not only in others’ but also in their own esteem.

The march
Women in these localities were repressed. To make them shed their inhibitions and network, I encouraged them to form Mahila Mandals. As the member of Shramik Vidyapeeth, I helped them get vocational training too. But within no time, the strength of the group dwindled from 100 to 25 due to in-fights and ego clashes. I realised founding SHGs was one efficacious way to keep them together. I started with 50 groups & never looked back. It has been a smooth run with our office functioning near AVN College. My field staff organizes the meetings and members avail the benefits of Gruha Laxmi Mutually Aided Credit and Thrift Society. Each member deposits Rs.10 every month. They raise loans from the collected funds to meet their investments to set up small enterprises and meet their other needs. The state helps them with matching grants. Their growth depends on their capability and calibre. Today our members can avail loan up to Rs.30 lakh. Many of them are running their own businesses with great success.

Needed factors
Three other factors, besides financial independence, are needed for them to progress....
a) Education
b) Health
c) Social awareness

The change
There is a perceptible change in women’s attitude which in turn is helping them reach their goals. Initially, some of our members would refuse to send their daughters to school. Today 90% of our women are educated and there are no more school drop outs. Basically, most of our women are ignorant of the issues plaguing them and the facilities the state is providing them to tide over their problems. We need to continuously apprise them of these sops.

Liquor ban
Alcoholism is the root cause for multiple ills. Besides facing domestic violence, women often deny themselves nourishment as their priority is to feed drunken husbands and helpless children. They are even forced to earn their bread, as the men spend all the money on alcohol. I submitted a comprehensive data on belt shops to the government which resulted in shutting them down in 2012. The 106-day dharna by our women forced the shift of a liquor shop out of Jalaripet. We hold de-addiction camps & counselling centers to check alcoholism.

Swachh Bharat
In recognition of my service, I am appointed as an ambassador of Swachh Bharat, Vizag. We adopted the Chilakapeta slum, which now turned over a new leaf. To create awareness on the segregation of dry and wet waste, I created a brigade.

My being a doctor certainly gives me an edge over other activists as women find it easy to confide in me on any issue including health. I advise and counsel as I can relate to their problems with more empathy.

It is a man’s world
Yes, some fields like politics and films are predominantly male domains. Attracted to Chiranjeevi’s ideologies, especially his fight against liquor, I joined Praja Rajyam. But I have no intention of going back to politics as I discovered that women were not too welcome in that field. There are three reasons – a) families never encourage women unless the need arises, b) society still finds it difficult to accept female politicians and c) political parties don’t support women.

She boss
For the past 10 years, I have been running this hotel, which is named after my little grandson. Never did I face any problem. Ultimately, it all depends on how you treat your employees. They are my extended family; I stand by them and they reward me with their loyalty and commitment, hence no fretting over retention and attrition.

Advice to women
We are inbuilt with patience but I see that the trait is missing in this generation. I urge them to ponder before taking the plunge, whether it is marriage or career. Refrain from reacting instantly to any situation.

Personal note
I was born in an agricultural family of Gudavalli in Guntur district. My parents the late Mr.Gogineni Suryakoti Prakash Rao and Mrs.Venkata Ratnamma were progressive in their thoughts and deeds. I studied MBBS from Guntur Medical College, excelled in academics and sports too, and was a state volleyball player.

Leader always
I was the first woman to contest for the position of general secretary in college. I served as the joint secretary of student union and general secretary of the hostel. I was an out and out tomboy and was generally dreaded by boys.

Knot of adventure
Dr.Rahman was my senior in college. I fell in love with his compassionate nature. Fearing a backlash from our families, we got married at Vizag Registrar’s office in 1974. The marriage was a closely guarded secret till my people started looking for matches for me. Then all hell broke out with both the sides making a hue and cry. My people were wary of his religion and his people did not want a Hindu girl in their family though I changed my name from Bullemma to Shirin. Since we were independent, the journey was smooth even before both sides accepted us.

Career path
We moved to Rentachintala to set up our clinic and later, to Macherla. We worked for the Algerian government for nine years before we moved to Vizag to settle. We ran Blue Diamond Bar & Restaurant till we shut it down in 1994 to keep in step with TDP’s prohibition policy as Dr.Rahman was contesting for the MLA post. I continued my practice till 2009 in Kota Veedhi. This created an inextricable bond between the unfortunate poor and me.

The bliss
Our marriage is built on mutual respect, trust and tolerance. I do my puja, while he recites his namaz. My son Sameer, an engineer and his wife Shalini, an endocrinologist, are settled in the US with their son Budhil.

Three words that describe you
Committed, truthful and strong willed
My aunt and freedom fighter the late Mrs.Venkata Subbamma
Best advice you got
My uncle the late Mr.Povada Bhushanam advised me to take
up welfare activities
Definition of power
It is an instrument to be used for the betterment of the society and bring about a change
Mode of relaxation
Interacting with CS women
The best compliment …
My husband showers me with compliments. So tough to pick one.
Holiday spot: Kullu Manali
Cuisine: South Indian
Sports icon: P.Gopichand
One thing you want to change
about yourself
I react with great spontaneity and speed when I hear about problems women face. Sometimes, I lose my temper too.

• Uttama Mahila by Visakha Samacharam-1999
• Best Social Worker by Inner Wheel Club-2001
• Ugadi Puraskaram by Visakha Samacharam Ugadi Committee-2002
• Meti Mahila by Development Awareness Welfare for Needy, Anakapalli- 2004
• SHGS and Role of Social Work Profession Department of Social Work, Andhra University-2008
• Monarch Chevron Award by Lions Clubs International- 2013
• Best RWA Manager Award by 4th National Conference of Resident Welfare Associations- 2016
• Sustira Seva Puraskarm by GVMC-2018

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