Extraordinary Indians: How Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan recipient Tsering Landol became a pioneer of women's health in Ladakh

Around the time Tsering Landol got her medical degree in the 1970s, the state had no female gynaecologists. “I would be able to do something,” she thought. 

Bhavya Dore Updated: Apr 7, 2021 11:44:12 IST
Extraordinary Indians: How Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan recipient Tsering Landol became a pioneer of women's health in Ladakh Photo: Press Information Bureau

A Life Well LivedDr Tsering Landol, 76

In the 1970s, when Tsering Landol was studying for her medical degree in Leh, she knew pretty quickly what specialization she wanted to pursue: gynaecology. Until then the state had no female gynaecologists. It seemed absurd. “I thought it is a women’s problem, I can do much better,” she said. “I thought I would be able to do something.”

Since then, Landol has had a storied four-decades-long career, working in cold, remote areas, to fortify women’s health, advocating for family planning, campaigning against health-related taboos and leading adolescent health awareness programmes. She received the Padma Shri in 2006 and the Padma Bhushan in 2020 for her pioneering work in the field. Landol grew up in Leh, in a family with five siblings, and was encouraged throughout her professional life by her family. After graduating in Srinagar she joined the district hospital in 1979. In the ’70s and ’80s, most women in Ladakh had large families, shied away from hospital deliveries and resisted speaking freely about their health issues. They also often trusted Tibetan medicine over modern medicine. Facilities were poor, and Landol often found herself working under the most basic conditions. “There were no round-the-clock lights, no heating system. It was very difficult, with very primitive operating theatres,” she said.

From a mere five or six hospital deliveries when she first started her career, to more than 1,000, by the time she retired, Landol has steered women’s health care through several decades. Through camps, clinics and awareness programmes, Landol worked hard on social and medical awareness in communities, emphasizing that good health was as much about preventive care as curative care.

Cultural myths and misapprehensions around family planning, maternal and child health, abortions and contraceptions were rife, as was an overall reticence on the part of women to speak freely about what was happening to their bodies. A great deal of Landol’s work involved dialogue as much as scalpels and forceps. “In the medical profession, it is very important to convince and educate people,” she says. Her kind manner, and easy familiarity helped.

As, no doubt, did her gender. “I knew the vernacular and social conventions, the traditions, I knew the diet and climatic conditions and geography,” she said. “I was the right person to understand my people. I could speak their language and had gone through their lifestyle,” she said.

Things have greatly changed now, she believes. Women are more empowered and educated, many taboos and concerns have been dealt with. Though she has retired from full-time practice, Landol does voluntary work at a private nursing home once a week. Looking back, is she happy with how her career shaped up? She chuckles. “Definitely.”


This profile is part of RD's annual series 'Extraordinary Indians' that celebrates ordinary individuals changing their communities through courage, compassion and selfless service to humanity. To read about more local heroes click here

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