CHENNAI: Dr Udaya Mahadevan was like a banyan tree, who provided shade on a sunny day, and home for all kinds of species to nurture and grow.The retired professor Emeritus of the Department of Social Work at Loyola College passed away on March 16 this year. An educator, practitioner, and researcher — she was a rare package who excelled at everything.
“She was a great teacher and has been a friend and mentor to many people who call themselves social workers today,” said TNM Deepak, president of December 3 Movement, a disability rights group. “She was a strong activist and a gender-sensitive social worker. She exemplified what a social worker should be like and her life is one that should be celebrated,” he shared.
She was from the 1973-1975 batch at Stella Maris College and completed her postgraduate degree in Social Work in the academic year 1974-1975. Subsequently, she received her Doctoral degree at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) Bengaluru, which was supported by the Faculty Development Programme, a fellowship offered to teachers by the University Grants Commission.
Udaya joined Loyola College Chennai as a faculty member of the Department of Social Work in 1977. During her tenure, she served as faculty coordinator of the Centre for Women Studies and the Centre for Social Inclusion and Dalit Studies.
To Udaya, social work was more than just ‘work.’ It was what she lived and breathed for. Her passion to enrich people’s lives, the drive to make society better, compassion for anyone in need, and iron will drove her to go to great lengths to be the force that she was. “At her core, it was her responsiveness that defined her,” said Vandana Gopikumar, one of the founders of The Banyan.
“She was non judgmental, an advocate for commemorating all family occasions by donating to NGOs eschewing rituals, an active blood donor from her college days, passionately involved in the rehabilitation of the handicapped, funding of fees/books etc. to the marginalised sections and a mentor for most city-based NGOs. Despite being terminally ill, she never fussed and went about her business calmly. We, of her circle, can only recall the haunting lines of Andy Williams ‘we had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun,’” said VM Prakash, brother of Dr Udaya.
A recipient of several prestigious awards, Udaya gained due recognition even as a young teacher. She won an award from the Indian Society of Psychiatric Social Work for her paper on Community Mental Health presented at the National Conference at Bengaluru. The Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) rightly recognised her as an Eminent Social Scientist as part of their Collegium comprising 250 social scientists in the country for 2016- 2017. “Her contribution is immeasurable. The service sector today is deteriorating. But, she was the gold standard in social work. She would serve those in need without ever looking at their background. I have seen her carrying people, waiting for hours till someone arrived to help a homeless person,” said Aspy Joyson, founder of Aruwe.
As a keen researcher, she contributed to the frontiers of Social Action Research. In this connection, she has been awarded the Dr Yedanapalli Research Award, the Dr TN Ananthakrishnan Commemoration Award and the Loyola College Research fellowship award. As a practitioner, she supported several NGOs, particularly Jeevodaya.
Hospice for cancer patients, she was active in enhancing the teaching and practice of professional social work at several social work teaching institutions. “Her academic achievements are well-known but what many don’t know is that she was a very good singer and was a delightful narrator of stories. She was humourous and witty while also being very knowledgeable. Her funeral was attended by so many people. It just goes to show that she truly touched so many lives,” shares Prakash.
A devoted social work educator, an ardent field practitioner, and a keen social researcher she has quietly and steadily contributed to the progress of social work education and societal development. Much like a banyan tree, which is considered to be a symbol of immortality, Dr Udaya too will live on through the numerous lives she has touched.