Meet The Magsaysay Award Winner Who Has Rehabilitated 7000 Homeless People
We see many homeless people scavenging for food and shelter across India. They have no help, food, or money. While there are efforts by the government to rehabilitate them, there are still many people on the streets. Dr Bharat Vatwani along with his wife started to bring mentally unstable street paupers to their clinics and treated them. They established Shraddha Rehabilitation Foundation in 1989 in Mumbai. The foundation provides treatment, custodial care and rehabilitation to the neglected group of mentally-ill homeless people. He has brought happiness to numerous families.
Revallamma, a 35-year-old lady was picked up from Mumbai’s streets and brought to Shraddha Rehabilitation Foundation. When she came to the foundation, she was giggling and muttering to herself. After six weeks of nursing and psychiatric care, she improved and informed the doctors the name of her native village. She was then reunited with her mother after 4 years of separation.
Similarly, another woman, Asha, was found wandering around the streets of Mumbai with lice, ulcers, bruises and festering wounds on her body. Suffering from schizophrenia, she truly believed she was a boy and behaved as one. After many months of treatment, she began responding and getting better. Shraddha’s trained staff led her to her family for a happy reunion. Asha is quite well today and still comes to the Foundation occasionally for therapy. There are many such stories and many others who have benefitted thanks to Dr Bharat Vatwani and his wife. The Logical Indian spoke to Mr Vatwani about his Magsaysay award and the work that he has been doing for over two decades.
What made you start your noble work of rehabilitating homeless people?
There are many destitute on the street across India. One day I saw a man drinking water from a gutter. It broke my heart and along with my wife, I took him back with me to the clinic. When I started to talk to him, I realised that he is a B.Sc graduate and is a schizophrenic. This is when I decided to help these mentally challenged people and bring some change in their lives.
How many people started the Shraddha Foundation?
Initially, there was me and my wife Dr Smitha Vatwani. We used to treat the wandering mentally ill in our own private five-bed psychiatric nursing home in Borivali, Mumbai. However, a senior colleague and friend, psychiatrist Dr Ghanshyam Bhimani was involved intellectually. Then later on Daksesh Parikh, another schoolmate, and now Executive Editor, Business India pitched in & became Trustee. Then another friend Ashok Mohanani, whom I met after I started this, and who is realty Ekta World owner now, joined.
Initially, my wife and I would do everything from picking up, to treating, to reuniting the wandering mentally-ill roadside destitute. Then we used to have one employed social worker at a time. Then over the years, the workforce increased. Today we have 20 odd SW’s from different states who are salaried by Shraddha, majorly residential in our Karjat Center, but hailing from the different States of India. This is the USP of the success of Shraddha. The SW’s having their own native language and understanding of the dialects of their State, finally leading to bonding and reunions of the recovered destitute. The local infrastructure and human cooperation from police, villagers etc from within different states also shoot up exponentially, when an SW who hails from that state is escorting a recovered destitute for a reunion.
How did you manage your funding given the fact that you take them in and treat them and then reunite them with their families?
My wife and I have our own private practice and nursing home. We have been pumping in personal money since time immemorial. But over the years, we have developed a staunch decent fan base. We did have a fundraiser Art Exhibition at the Jehangir Art Gallery in 1993. More of this is mentioned on our website. Also, names of prominent donors over the years are also mentioned. Also, the annual audited accounts of the NGO are uploaded on the website. But yes, even today, I and my wife pump in a couple of 20 Lakhs per month, officially. Touch wood, we share the same sensibilities from day one. Heart over head approach when you are passionate about something.
Do you plan on expanding your organisation into different parts of the country?
Shraddha has no intention of setting up more branches all over India. As far as the cause of the wandering mentally-ill roadside destitute go, other NGO’S, students, social workers, and like-minded individuals replicating the Shraddha model, albeit on a smaller scale and with sharing of knowledge and expertise from the Shraddha Team, is the hope of the hour. Someone else has to pick up the baton. No idea whether that shall happen, but hope springs eternal…
How many people have you rehabilitated yet?
7000 mentally-ill roadside destitute have been picked up, treated and reunited with their families.
What message would you like to give to our community members?
The destitutes that we pick up may finally hail from any part of India. So, the reunion process affects the lives of the villages exposed to these reunions. Awareness about mental health is created. As a fellow psychiatrist put it, it is not a passive transmission of knowledge, it is the loud resonance of a tiger’s roar about the treatability of mental illness in that village. So ultimately it is not 7000 reunions that Shraddha has done. It is 7000 villages sensitised to the treatability of mental illness. I am 60 years old. Our NGO Shraddha Rehabilitation Foundation is already running above its capacity and we can’t stretch this into infinity. What is required is for other NGO’S, social workers, students, well-meaning souls of society to take up the cause of the wandering mentally-ill roadside destitute. Awareness of the cause will result in increased awareness of mental illness. I pray that the awareness increases in society because of the Award. To some degree, it will.
A final word from my side. An article presented by some fellow psychiatrists in 2016 claimed that the number of wandering mentally-ill on the roads of India is 4 lakhs. I personally feel it must be more. All these years, I have believed that Shraddha has done nothing. A mere 7000 reunited. 3,93,000 still left wondering. So how come Ramon Magsaysay Foundation thought that I (or Shraddha) deserved this Award is a colossal mystery to me. But if they have thought that I deserve it, so be it. Hopefully, it would do some good for the cause of mental illness in India. Again, hope springs eternal.