A few years ago, a woman from rural Orissa landed at Prabh Aasra, a Kurali-based shelter home for the destitute, after she was found lying abandoned by the police near Morinda. She had slipped into a psychiatrist disorder after she came to Punjab; she was on a pilgrimage to some other state with several other women from her village but accidentally boarded a wrong train.
At Kurali, she was treated for three years before she could recall her name and her native place. “For three years she hardly spoke, and remembered nothing. Then suddenly one day, she remembered her name and her village. We immediately located it using the Internet, contacted the nearest police station and subsequently, her family members. They told us they were too poor to come and get her. We then took her to her village after she had fully recovered from depression,” said Rajinder Kaur, a founder member of the NGO.
She is not the only mentally ill person rehabilitated and re-united with her family by Prabh Aasra. Since its inception 11 years ago, the NGO has re-united nearly 750 families in Punjab and other parts of the country, including Assam, Maharashtra and even Nepal.
In one case, a mentally ill woman from Bihar was re-united with her son after 25 years. “Deserted and lost, she had been living a pitiable existence for years before somebody referred her to us. When she recovered somewhat and recalled her village, we sent photographs and a letter to the panchayat there. The elderly in the village recognised her. After we took her there, the villagers held a ceremony and told us that they had never even celebrated a wedding with such fervour,” said Kaur.
According to Shamsher Singh, who runs the place, people slip into depression and other disorders after they are abandoned in a hostile environment. “We have seen numerous cases where normal people, especially the economically weaker ones, leave their homes for jobs etc and then lose their way. Once left alone, they face language problems, poverty and hostility and gradually become psychologically unwell. For instance, once we had a girl from Nepal who was here on a school trip but was left behind. In another case, a man from Ranchi was found abandoned outside the Punjab Vigilance office recently. They immediately brought him here.”
The police and hospital authorities in the state routinely write to the NGO to accept a patient when no relative comes forward to claim him.
In 2012, Singh filed a representation to the High Court saying that there are at least 68,000 mentally ill patients in the state and their NGO, with its limited resources, had already treated 800 cases and is not in a position to take on more. The representation was made for the state to step in and implement Mental Health Act in its totality.
The court treated it as a PIL and made the state government a party. But the state repeatedly replied that it had adequate provisions, including an institute for mental health in Amritsar, a home for mentally ill children in Kapurthala and three other such homes across the state for the mentally ill who have no relative.
“We wonder why the government keeps lying. Only last week, the Mansa district authorities wrote to us that the children’s home at Kapurthala is not ready to accept a 13-year-old mentally ill girl. We often get such letters where we are told that no government institution has provisions to care for the homeless who are mentally ill. We only want that the state should step up to provide for these people,” said Singh.
The PIL is pending in the High Court. see also page 3