This Indian Doctor Turns His Grief of Losing Family in Plane Crash into Zest for Social Service; He Gets Padma Shri This Year

Let your bucket list feature the Sankurathri Foundation if you’re traveling to India, especially Andhra Pradesh this summer. A visit to the Sankurathri Foundation campus in the coastal town of Kakinada is no less divine an experience than a pilgrimage. At the entrance of the campus, your attention will be caught by the larger-than-life statue of three human beings underneath a sprawling tree. Their unpleasant demise in the 1985 bombing of an Air India flight gave birth to the extraordinary journey of Dr Chandrasekhar Sankurathri, who has been named a Padma Shri awardee this Republic Day 2023. 

Padma Shri Dr Sankurathri, 79, is a living embodiment of what Helen Keller said, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.” His life of success and happiness in Canada turned upside down after the crash of Air India flight 182, from Montreal to Mumbai, over the Atlantic Ocean near Ireland took away his wife and two children. However, unlike tragic heroes in literature and cinema, Dr Sankurathri transformed the darkness of grief and loneliness into a beacon of light for the underprivileged in rural India.

Sankurathri Foundation Kakinada, Padma Shri Chandrasekhar Sankurathri, Srikiran Institute of Ophthalmology


After three years of bereavement, he left Ottawa where he was a celebrated biologist for two decades, and returned to his roots in Andhra Pradesh on a quest for a new purpose of his life. He was also a scientific evaluator for the Ministry of Health, Canada. On seeing rural folks of his hometown and beyond mired in poverty due to the lack of education and healthcare, he rose over his personal grief to uplift them. He braved the tragedy to live for a bigger cause – breaking the cycle of illiteracy and physical ailments for the needy.        

In 1989, he established the Sankurathri Foundation in memory of his family ushering in a new era of empowerment for Kakinada. He also set up the Manjari Memorial Foundation (Manjari was his wife) as a registered charity in Ontario, Canada. Both the foundations have their goals aligned towards improving the quality of life for the poor. With all his savings, he started working on several projects through the Sankurathri Foundation, including free education to poor children at Sarada Vidyalaya that he consecrated to his daughter in 1992.

So far, the high school has educated over 5000 children from the economically weaker households, at a zero-dropout rate. The children are helped with study materials, meals, and health check-ups at the school. In its exclusive article on Dr Chandrasekhar Sankurathri, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) lauded Sarada Vidyalaya as “a ticket out of poverty for these kids”. The article also reads, “Ask them how many have parents who cannot read and write. Most of the hands go up. Ask them what they want to be when they grow up? They answer: Teacher, doctor, police officer….”

The Institute of Ophthalmology that the Sankurathri Foundation has been running since 1993 is named after his son, who was only 7 while traveling on the ill-fated flight. The mission of providing free quality eye care to the visually impaired living below the poverty line is inspired by his son’s dream of becoming an ophthalmologist. The Srikiran Institute of Ophthalmologist has restored vision to nearly 300,000 patients of vulnerable age-groups through cataract surgeries, 90% of which were conducted for free. The institute also holds free medical check-up camps in remote areas of the state.

“15 million Indians are living without vision,” according to Dr Sankurathri’s Srikiran Institute of Ophthalmology located on a serene five-acre site near Kakinada and equipped with modern equipment. There are 10 outpatient clinics, 4 operation theatres, a pharmacy, two optical shops, a cafeteria, and an auditorium. Interestingly, the institute is recognized as the best NGO in ophthalmology by the state government. The institute continues to get support from the University of Ottawa Eye Institute, Rotary International, Infosys Foundation, Eye Foundation of America, the Canadian International Development Agency, and Arvind Eye Hospitals Tamil Nadu. Moreover, the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce adjudged him as the “Humanitarian of the Year 2013”.

“The demise of his wife and children was the culmination of the family tragedy that had begun in his childhood. When Chandrasekhar Sankurathri was only 7, his mother died of an unidentified illness. His elder brother went missing after two years of his mother’s untimely death. The fate continued to be hostile against the family as the Godavari floods left many village households including theirs penniless the next year. He lost his only sister when he was 13. However, he defied to be at the mercy of his fate and became a ray of hope for others. After the air incident in 1985, his stoicism became his strength. This reminds me of the concluding dialogue from “Riders to the Sea”, a popular Irish play, “No man at all can be living forever and we must be satisfied”, said Sourav Agarwal, the Editor of Travel Beats.

One thought on “This Indian Doctor Turns His Grief of Losing Family in Plane Crash into Zest for Social Service; He Gets Padma Shri This Year

  1. Suresh

    A great Soul & Inspiring, Really very much deserved Award &Reconginition, these days these awards have become more relevant.


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