New Delhi: In the
dimly-lit lobby of a shelter for the mentally-ill homeless, she
sits reading the tattered printout of an e-mail from her US-based
brother. The 55-year-old scans every word - her brother has
sternly refused to accept her following her recovery from mental
It's a body blow but she refuses to give up. After a long and hard
battle against mental illness at Sudinalaya, a shelter for such
homeless women in north Delhi, the doughty woman has drawn on her
inner resilience to carry on living. She misses her family, fights
the rejection, but is trying to come to terms with the fact that
the shelter home is perhaps her refuge - for the foreseeable
"My family has refused to accept me even after recovery. I have
nowhere to go, so now I have to accept this shelter home as my
home," the former schoolteacher, who is not being identified for
fear of further taint, told a visiting IANS correspondent.
"These women here are my family. I cook here and talk to friends,"
the economics graduate from Nagpur, who was found on the streets
last August and was treated at the the Delhi government's
Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), said in
a determined voice.
Tragically, she's not the only one.
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), there
are over 70 million people with some form of mental illness in the
country and about a quarter of them are homeless. Experts say
familial apathy and an attitudinal shift in society are pushing
millions of recovered mentally-ill people into homelessness.
"A shelter home cannot replace the emotional support provided by a
family," said Sudinalaya director Sreerupa Mitra.
"I will file a petition in the high court asking whether and how
much penalty can be imposed on families who abandon people in our
society, put them in utmost misery and render them homeless,"
Mitra told IANS.
According to Nimesh Desai, director of IHBAS, a major concern is
rehabilitating those who have recovered.
"Generally, the outlook towards people with mental illness has
improved. But homelessness of millions of mentally-ill is a major
concern because of the changing face of society," Desai said.
"There have been cases where the family members corner property
worth crores and throw the individual into a mental asylum," he
"It is frustrating to see such active deprivation of economic and
social rights even in well-to-do families. Are the families
falling short of physical space in their apartments or do they
lack emotional space?" Desai wondered.
Interestingly, families declining to accept a loved one with a
history of mental illness have been more evident in "urban and
economically well-off families", said experts.
While "legal persuasion" could be applied on families to support a
patient, more often than not, patients are left with no option but
to struggle in custodial asylum or languish on streets - both of
which are worse after recovery.
Back at Sudinalaya, lunch is over and the utensils have been
washed and put away. The now recovered woman, hoping to get back
to a teaching job, heads for the carom board for a game she
excelled at when in college.
"If no one comes for me, I will stay here and teach the other
women this game," she says.
(Madhulika Sonkar can be contacted at email@example.com)