She is known to India as the Mother of all; she was an Indian midwife who won the Padma Shri in 2018. She delivered more than 15,000 babies for seven decades, without ever asking for a single cent. Who is she?
She is Sulagitti Narasamma – where ‘Sulagitti’ is a Kannada term which translates to ‘delivery work.’
Narasamma began the noble work of ‘Sulagitti’ at the bubbly age of 20, and since then, she was unstoppable till her death. Due to the lack of medical amenities, she turned into a veteran of using traditional deliveries to serve the deprived regions of Karnataka.
Although illiterate, she embodied the vision of continuous and ceaseless learning throughout her life. Perhaps it helped that she belonged to the nomadic culture, having been born at Krishnapura, Pavagada village in Tumkur district. This played a very important role later on in the work front.
The art of Midwife was Narasamma’s forte and passion. She learned the art of ‘Sulagitti’ traditionally from her grandmother, Marigemma, who delivered five of Narasamma’s children.
It wasn’t enough for her though–she sought more opportunities to hone her skills and abilities to preserve life. So she listened carefully to the nomadic tribes that took shelter in her village. Through them, she learned how to prepare natural medicines for pregnant women. She had a talent for checking the pulse of a fetus, its health, and the position of its head.
Married at the young age of 12, biologically mothering 12 children and 36 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she passed away at the age of 98, due to lung problems.
In her acts of preservation, she has taught 180 students, including her daughter Jayamma, who is now a successful midwife herself.
An important aspect of midwifery is that it supports healing by creating environments where women can connect with their ancestral knowledge around their bodies, while supporting them through their reproductive revolution of self-determination. That is to say that not only does Narasamma’s ability to conduct all the deliveries in her village became a radical part of women reclaiming their reproductive health, but it also helped her connect to her nomadic roots and systems.
Sulagitti Narasamma worked for 70 years selflessly to re-construct the narratives of reproduction, sexual health and, motherhood.
She gained recognition when writers Annapoorna Venkatananjappa and Ba Ha Ramakumari spotted her at work and nominated her for a district-level award, which began a barrage of Awards.
- Karnataka State Government award in 2012,
- Kitturu Rani Chennamma award in 2012
- Karnataka Rajyotsava award in 2013
- National Citizen’s award of India in 2013
- Honorary doctorate from Tumkur University in 2014
- Padma Shri in March 2018
Narasamma’s maintained a healthy lifestyle until old age ailed her of lung disease. She was admitted to the Siddaganga Hospital and Research Centre in November 2018. She passed away at BGS Gleneagles Global Hospitals in Kengeri, Bengaluru, Karnataka, on 25th December 2018 and was honored by thousands of people from diverse backgrounds.