04 September 2010
By Ravi Uppar
The Banagar community, a sub–caste of the Lingayats in Gokak town, about 600 km from Bangalore, has been quietly going about something very noble over the past 20 years. Its members have been donating their eyes and bringing a ray of hope to people with corneal blindness.
"Eye donation in India faces several obstacles due to religious traditions, misconceptions and superstitions. Besides, the process of collecting the cornea has to be done within six hours of the donor’s death," says I V Koutanali, leader of the Banagar community and founder president of Lions Eye Donation Centre (Gokak). He’s also the district chairman of Lions Eye Donation.
"In the early 1990s, people avoided us when we approached a dead person’s family and requested the eyes be donated. There was a belief that the soul of the person could not rest in peace if any part of the body was damaged, Koutanali told TOI.
Currently, Gokak centre is the second–highest collector of corneas in the state, next to Bangalore. Community leaders created awareness among people by organizing lectures of spiritual gurus on eye donation regularly and distributed pamphlets.
Koutanali said, "Banagar community members now donate their eyes on their own and other communities too are coming forward. Given the public response, we started body donation last year and have collected eight bodies so far," he said.