The CHC to SOCHARA Journey: Key milestones 1982-1992

1982 – When it all began!

The first upload are the notes on a year of travel and reflection by two faculty members of the St. Johns Medical College, Department of Community Medicine (Dr. Thelma Narayan and Dr. Ravi Narayan) who spent the year 1982 travelling and reflecting on the community health movement in the country and spending time with many pioneers in their own projects and with many doctors, nurses and community health workers trained by them in St Johns in the preceding years. This document in some ways was the precursor of the study reflection, action and experiment from January 1984 which eventually led to the evolution of SOCHARA.

1984 – Moving beyond the Medical College…

The CHC study, reflection, action and experiment began in January 1984 when doctors Thelma and Ravi Narayan moved beyond their faculty positions in St. Johns Medical College at the end of December 1983 to start the Cell on 1st January 1984. In their resignation letter they first outlined in brief the evolving objective of this new Cell.

“We have now decided that we would like to work at a more grassroot level supporting the growing community health movement. We have discovered that we are committed to a process of attitudinal change not a speciality; a value system not a university curriculum or regulation; a health movement not a medical institution and hence we realise that we have now grown beyond the perspectives of a preventive and social medicine department We have now felt the need to move out of the confines of a university regulated teaching department to an informal, small documentation and research cell, which will encourage and catalyse the growing awareness and interest in Community Health and Health by the people.”

Soon K. Gopinathan also a staff member of the same department at St Johns Medical College quit his job and joined them followed by Krishna Chakravarthy who was working in a construction company. The four of them are often considered the co-initiators of CHC.

MFC comes to Bangalore…

During this initial years of the study-reflection-action-experiment of CHC, it also became coincidentally the national office of the Medico Friends Circle (MFC) with Ravi being nominated as the Convener of the MFC office and the editor of the MFC bulletin – one of the few times in MFC’s history that both the functions came to the same group. In April 1984 Ravi took over as the convener of the MFC office which moved to Bangalore till December 1986 when Dhruv Mankad took over as the convener. In June 1984 he became the editor of the MFC bulletin from issue no. 102 till issue no. 119, and in August 1986 Satyamala took over this responsibility. During these two years of MFC responsibility (also the initial two years of the CHC experiment) we got involved with many issues at national level including the Bhopal gas disaster, rational drug policy, TB control, medical education, and environmental health action.

(Further details can be accessed in MFC bulletins 102-119 at

See also:

1985 – The Bhopal stimulus!

The Bhopal Gas Disaster was a very significant event for both CHC and MFC since involvement in responding to the many needs that were expressed by MFC friends and SOCHARA contacts led to a very sustained involvement in the health response, the research exploration and in understanding the socio-political context of one of the world’s largest environmental disaster.

Two documents of this phase are of great historical significance. The first is a pamphlet outlining the main findings of the MFC team that undertook a civil society initiated socio-epidemiological survey of the victims of the gas disaster. The second is a health comic in Hindi designed by Eklavya which draws out the main findings of the study and creates a important information source for victims of the disaster on what is happening to their bodies. medico friend circle volunteers spent time with the local community interacting with them using the comic and empowering them with this knowledge. Looking back this was a very creative and innovative knowledge translation initiatives much before KT became important in research circles.

See Also:

1986 – Building ‘community health’ from the grassroots!

Two years after the SOCHARA experiment started the co-initiators wrote their first report for wider circulation which is also uploaded Community Health: the search for an alternative process. This Report of a study-reflection-action experiment by Community Health Cell, Bangalore. January 1984 – June 1986 was mimeographed and circulated primarily to all those who are acknowledged in the appendices of the report since they were the group of community health action initiators with which the CHC team interacted in the early years. This report has been reprinted as formal publication in 2011 under the title Community Health: In Search of Alternate Processes.

1988 – Strengthening the health collective!

In February and March 1988, The Community Health Cell (CHC) Team brought together 24 of its main partners and contacts for a two day meeting (7th Feb and 6th March 1988) to explore ‘Community Health Action and Networking in Karnataka’.

The report of this meeting which was brought together as a first newsletter of CHC highlights key issues and concerns and important collective ideas for action which emerged in the early years. Two important features should be noted by the readers of this first newsletter.

i). CHC presents itself as a resource group promoting and facilitating, the enabling dimension in health care with a socio epidemiological approach in planning and a participatory ethos in management.

ii) CHC promotes a network of community health action initiators and enthusiasts which in 1988 consisted of around 22 people listed in this document (excluding CHC team) who could be called the pioneers of the 1980s.

iii) This newsletter also highlights the concept of ‘three wise men’ who were like a Wise Counsel for the initial experimental years when the project was study-reflection-action- experiment. These were Dr C M Francis, (Ex Dean of St Johns), Fr. Claude D’Souza (Sociologist and Jesuit Educationist and Dr George Joseph (Retired Professor, Community Medicine, AIIMS Delhi) and the three of them met the team of co-initiators and pioneers regularly during this phase.

1989 – The Pioneers of CHC!

The experimental phase of the project was supported by the Centre for Non Formal and Continuing Education, Ashirvad, Bangalore-560 001 from 1984 till 1990. Though there were four key initiators in Jan 1984 there are, nine core team members by March 1988, listed in this newsletter, who can be considered the pioneers. Apart from the four co-initiators mentioned above these included Dr. Mani Kalliath and Dr. Shirdi Prasad Tekur – both Johnites and M S Nagarajan, V Nagaraja Rao, S John, S J Chander and Kumar. These eleven are considered the pioneers of CHC which was based in the Centre for Non Formal and Continuing Education based in St Marks Road till 1990. See photo….

1991 – From the Cell to the Society!

The Society for Community Health Awareness, Research and Action was established in early 1991 and became a registered Society under the Karnataka Societies Registration Act on 16th April 1991. The Memorandum of Association with Rules and regulations and amendments is here.

The Six objectives of the Society were:

1) Create an awareness in the principles and practice of community health

2) Promote and undertake research in community health and health policy in: i) Community healthcare systems ii) Training of health personnel iii) Interrelationships between health and development iv) Medical pluralism and integration of medical systems

3) Develop a documentation cell as well as a library of educational materials in community health

4) Evolve educational strategies that will enhance the knowledge skills and attitudes of people    involved          in         community      health    and           development

5) Dialogue with health planners, decision makers and administrators to enable the formulation     and     implementation     of     community     oriented     health     policies

6) Promote and support community health action by non governmental voluntary groups.

The founding members of the society are Dr. C.M. Francis, Claude D’Souza, A Arumugham, Dr. Ravi Narayan, Dr. Thomas M J, Valli Seshan, Dr Mohan Isaac, K Gopinathan, Dr Mani Kalliath, Dr Thelma Narayan and Dr Shirdi Prasad Tekur.

  • In the initial years CHC became known to its contacts and friends through word of mouth and informal communications. The first formal pamphlet about SOCHARA/CHC as a newly registered resource centre in community health was prepared and distributed in 1992. The mango leaves and traditional kolam on the cover was to signify signs of a traditional welcome.
  • In April 1992 the first Annual Report of SOCHARA (April 1991-March 1992) was completed describing the work of the new society under the six broad functions listed in the Memorandum of Association of the Society (see above). Since then there is an annual report for every year.