When Dr Bharat Vatwani’s (60) name was announced on Thursday for Asia’s highest honour, the Ramon Magsaysay award, a 46-year-old builder from Pune was among the first to congratulate the man who helped bring dignity to his life.
Recalling how he was affected with schizophrenia as a 17-year-old student of Class XI, Gangadhar Vinode said, “I was in Kolhapur and was travelling back to Pune. Instead I landed in Thane and for three days was lying unconscious at the roadside. I don’t know what would have happened if Dr Bharat Vatwani, a psychiatrist, had not treated me,” Vinode said.
Dr Vatwani set up the Shraddha Rehabilitation Foundation at Karjat in 2006 and has helped reunite around 7,000 mentally ill people with their families across the country, and even in Nepal. The award will be presented to him at a function on August 31 for devoting his life towards serving the mentally ill on the streets.
“Our work had begun prior to setting up the home. The turning point in my life was in the early 90s when my wife Smita, who is also a psychiatrist, and I noticed a horribly skinny boy drinking gutter water from a coconut shell… After appropriate care and treatment, the boy told us he was a BSc graduate…Mental illness can affect anyone and reduce a person to pathetically inhuman conditions,” Dr Vatwani said.
What started as attending to a couple of mentally ill destitutes led to setting up of a rehabilitation centre after a meeting with social worker Baba Amte. During the meeting, Dr Vatwani came across a schizophrenic destitute who was in chains. Recalling how Baba Amte was anguished at the sight, Dr Vatwani said, “His sensitivity drew me to him. It was bonding at its emotional best. While appreciating my work, he encouraged me to do more and that’s when we set up the rehabilitation home.”
Also read | Who is Bharat Vatwani
“In all my depressing moments if there is one person who continues to inspire me is Baba Amte,” said Dr Vatwani, who lost his father at a young age and was prone to bouts of suicidal depression. “I used to subconsciously end up hunting for a father figure in all the elders that I would meet and my search ended with Baba. He guided me and now this award has recognized the cause of the mentally ill roadside destitute persons.”
While Dr Vatwani continues to practise twice a week in Mumbai, he also raises funds and contributes Rs 2 lakh every month for the upkeep of the 120 destitutes staying at the Karjat home.