The warrior soul of the soil with an evergreen vision – Dr. Govindappa Natchiar : Indian Journal of Ophthalmology

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Women in Ophthalmology

The warrior soul of the soil with an evergreen vision – Dr. Govindappa Natchiar

Bansal, Rolika; Krishnadas, R1; Kim, R Usha1; Spivey, Bruce E2; Honavar, Santosh G

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Indian Journal of Ophthalmology 71(2):p 339-341, February 2023. | DOI: 10.4103/IJO.IJO_103_23
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“Eye surgery is an art. You work in such a tiny space, and if you create a beautiful job, the painting is worth so much money. You put pictures in people’s eyes. You paint them stunning flowers, their children’s faces, or lines that are clear and sharp. You paint a perfect vision”, defines Dr. G. Natchiar.

An arty ophthalmologist, a vivacious personality, inimitable vision with immaculate standards of professionalism and values, Dr. G Natchiar is an epitome of simplicity and positivity and her life story is truly inspiring. In a career spanning decades, Dr. G. Natchiar assumed a myriad of demanding roles and in each, she pioneered innovative concepts towards ensuring comprehensive and efficient delivery of eye care with no compromise on quality.

Currently the Director Emeritus of Aravind Eye Care System, she was born on September 15, 1940, at Vadamalapuram village in Tirunelveli District, Tamil Nadu, as the youngest of the five children [Fig. 1] to Mr. Govindappa Naicker with Gandhian traits and Mrs. Lakshmiamma with admirable leadership skills. After the early demise of her father, her brother Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy (Dr. V) being 23 years older than her, played multiple roles - as a parent, brother, mentor and confidant in her life. Dr. V’s vision and foresight which was remarkable and not easily comprehensible was spun into reality by Dr. G. Natchiar. She didn’t flinch away from devoting her entire life to ophthalmology.

Figure 1:
Miss. Govindappa Natchiar during her school days in 1953

After school, Natchiar joined the Madurai Medical College in 1958 where she started her journey by becoming Dr. G. Natchiar in 1963. There she also found her match – Dr. P. Namperumalsamy [Fig. 2] and the duo served a decade in the Government Rajaji Hospital at Madurai.[1] Dr. G. Natchiar pursued a fellowship in ocular pathology under the guidance of Dr. David Apple at the University of Illinois; and a fellowship in Ophthalmic Pathology and Neuro-ophthalmology, at Harvard University, Boston. She then joined Dr. V to start the Aravind Eye Hospital (AEH) in 1976 in Madurai with the legendary union of a group of like-minded people [Fig. 3]. In the past four decades, this institute has run on the purest of principles and evolved from an eleven bedded hospital to the highly affordable and equitable group of institutions, providing eye care services to all as the AECS. Due to her interest in Neuro-ophthalmology, she founded the neuro-ophthalmology department at the hospital along with Dr. M. Natarajan (neuro-surgeon) and Dr. K. Srinivasan (neurologist). She is also the first neuro-ophthalmologist in India who revolutionized the patient approach.

Figure 2:
The dynamic couple Dr. P. Namperumalsamy and Dr. Govindappa Natchiar: (a) 1966 and (b) 2010
Figure 3:
Founding members of the Aravind Eye Care System in 1976

Mother of the growth and evolution of the Aravind Eye Care System.” – Dr. William Stewart

Dr. G. Natchiar has played an indispensable role in shaping AECS by contributing as a clinician, surgeon, teacher and administrator. She designed and started the Micro Surgery Training Programme in 1993 at AECS, with support from Sightsavers International to address the challenges of developing the skills required for microsurgery with intra-ocular lens (IOL) implants, thus improving the quality of cataract surgery worldwide. This training programme has helped train about 4,000 senior ophthalmologists in developing countries such as India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Africa. A skilled surgeon herself, quality of care was always the top-most priority for Dr. G. Natchiar. She drilled down into the details of various clinical aspects and implemented systems to ensure supreme quality at all stages of eye care delivery.

Dr. G. Natchiar headed the out-reach eye camps, conducted by the AECS team, to provide doorstep care to the rural communities. What started as one camp a week, resulted in a strong network with over 3,000 camps in a year, across Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry.[2] At the same time, the rate of surgical complications was reduced (with software-based monitoring), IOLs were made affordable, cataract surgeons were trained extensively, innovative operating practices were developed and specialty-based diversification of camps was done. She played an instrumental role in initiating and scaling an innovative service delivery model for rural populations through Aravind’s vision centers and outreach activities.

At the peak of her cataract career, Dr. G. Natchiar shifted gears to utilize her soft skills to develop the Human Resource Department at AECS. As the Director of Human Resources Department, she developed a new cadre of allied ophthalmic professionals, termed as “Mid-level Ophthalmic Personnel (MLOP)”. Though sheer need for manpower necessitated the training and recruitment of young rural girls as allied ophthalmic personnel, very soon, she realised the immense potential that it held in improving the lives of several poor rural families. Over many years, this programme has stood tall as an example of women empowerment and is being widely replicated [Fig. 4]. Her sharp acumen and analytical skills have resulted in her being exceptionally good in manpower planning and in improving the productivity or efficiency of her staff. She introduced the novel idea of calendar-based assessment, at the Medical Records Department of the expected new and review patients which led to optimized manpower and resource allocation. She has a flair for identifying people’s talents and getting the best out of them.

Figure 4:
Dr. G. Natchiar with a group of empowered women at Aravind

“An enabling influence on Woman-power in Eye-care who owned responsibility and earned respect.” – Dr. R Krishnadas

One of her greatest contributions towards ensuring quality is the introduction of a periodic and stringent appraisal system across all the departments holistically, which gives a platform to monitor and analyze the performance and bring in the necessary changes in the system. Dr. G. Natchiar always believes that the success of an organization is hinged on empowerment of people and not mere dependence on them. She always prioritizes people’s development as the key to organizational growth and as a means to achieving the organization’s goals and mission.

I opted to resign from clinical services in 2010, having realized that we need not cling on to ophthalmology forever and that one should find time to pursue other passions. Now, I dedicate my time to something that has been always close to my heart – farming and I enjoy a special satisfaction each passing day.” – Dr. G Natchiar

Dr. G. Natchiar is a woman with phenomenal organizational consciousness and a vivid personal style. She is equal parts tyrannical, generous and concerned. She has always been, and continues to be, the unofficial keeper of the Aravind culture.[3] There are no airs or graces about her; she always remained grounded despite the marvelous feats that she as an individual and AECS as an organization has achieved.

Having played a pivotal role in shaping up AECS and dedicating over four decades in eye care, Dr. Natchiar now pursues her passion, something that was always close to her heart – farming. She single-handedly maintains a huge farm of about 70 acres which is noted for its biodiversity and is certified as completely organic by the Government of Tamil Nadu. “I had no scientific training but followed my instincts and interest and started planting a variety of trees,” she says. Today, her family, staff, friends and visitors to Aurofarm marvel at the “blossoming property” buzzing with butterflies and birds.[4] Dr. G Natchiar with a tough persona is practical, modest, confident, graceful and in every role she has ever taken up, her focus has always remained the same – “Do good for the community and ensure the welfare of your fellow-beings.”

“Even at 83, I am fairly active. My mind is occupied. I have a purpose to live and I constantly feel that there is a lot more that I can do. My life is a great example for the fact that an ordinary human being if empowered with the right guidance is capable of achieving a lot.” – Dr. G. Natchiar


We thank all the members of the AECS family for helping out in framing this manuscript and contributing significantly with facts and figures promptly. A special thanks to Ms. Meenaand Ms Anuja, for not only helping us with all the figures and information, but also for being the support Dr. G. Natchiar and AECS required.


1. Das T, Venkatesh R, Kannan NB, Krishnadas R. Dr. P. Namperumalsamy:Transitioning dreams, transcending barriers in accessible eye care Indian J Ophthalmol 2022;70:3171.
2. Natchiar G, Thulasiraj R, Sundaram RM. Cataract surgery at Aravind Eye Hospitals: 1988–2008 Community Eye Health J 2008;21:67.
3. Mehta PK, Shenoy S. Infinite Vision: How Aravind became the world's greatest business case for compassion. India: Collins Business, 2012. 94.
4. Basu S. Oasis in the desert The Hindu 2005. Sep 17.
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