In a society that’s plagued with a huge stigma against any kind of mental illness, the tale of Archana can truly restore one’s faith in humanity. An aware citizen and an NGO came together and helped this woman suffering from mental illness living on the streets of Mumbai find her way back to her parents in Rajasthan.
It all began around October 2015, when some of the residents of Juhu spotted a new addition to the area.
Image for representation only. Source: Maxpixel
A young woman of about 25 years of age had started causing some disturbance to the residents by pelting stones at the cars parked in the area. It was around the same time that Rhea Chhabria, a designer and animal activist saw her for the first time too.
“I remember very vividly the first time I saw her. She was pelting stones at a car passing by her and was swearing loudly. What struck me was that she didn’t have the appearance of a homeless person- her clothes were rather dirty and tattered at places, but seemed to be of good quality even in that state. She was very attractive and had that well maintained look about her. I wondered what was wrong with her, so I tried to strike up a conversation. She didn’t say much, but seemed educated,” recalls Rhea.
A few months passed and Rhea saw her again. This time, it took some time for Rhea to recognise her since her condition had worsened- clothes were completely tattered, there were dreadlocks in her hair and she had gained some weight. Upon recognising her, Rhea enquired about her to a couple of watchmen in the area. They couldn’t provide any significant information, except that she had been causing a lot of trouble by pelting stones and using abusive language. They advised her to steer clear of this ‘crazy’ woman.
Determined to know her story, Rhea approached her once again. She befriended her slowly. She would offer her food, or sometimes would just stop by to say hello. She learned that the girl’s name was Archana and that she had come to Mumbai from Rajasthan to become a model.
“It seems like a quick process, but it took me months to get that much information out of her. She wasn’t ever unfriendly or hostile to me, but was reluctant to open up for a long time. I sensed that she had some mental illness since many of the things she told me didn’t make much sense. That’s when I approached my mother, who is a psychiatrist, for help,” says Rhea.
Rhea’s mother Dr Anjali Chhabria accompanied her once, but Archana got scared and ran away.
Trying this exercise a couple more times with no luck, the mother-daughter duo approached an NGO that works with mental health patients.
Shraddha Rehabilitation Foundation started by Dr. Bharat and Dr. Smitha Vatwani deals with the mentally ill destitute patients wandering aimlessly on the streets and rehabilitates them. Upon coming to know about Archana, the NGO picked her up and started her treatment. It took two months of treatment at the centre for her to be able to tell her address and the rest of the story.
“Archana is from Alwar in Rajasthan and had been living with her brothers after the demise of her parents. She had suffered from the mental illness before, but was doing fine for the last couple of years. She had decided to take up a modelling assignment in Delhi when she left home. However, the family lost contact with her after a few months and they started looking for her. Archana couldn’t find any work in Delhi after the assignment, thus she decided to move to Mumbai. However, there’s no way to know how she ended up on the streets,” informs Denit Mathew, project coordinator at Shraddha.
Upon knowing her address, Team Shraddha contacted Archana’s family in Alwar. The family had been searching for her since the past two years without any luck and had almost lost hope of ever seeing her again. The phone call was as good as a miracle for them. The NGO’s social worker Ritu Verma dropped Archana to her home in August 2016 and has been keeping track of her progress since.
“They were ecstatic to see their sister! We usually offer free medication to our patients even after rehabilitation, but since Archana’s family is well to do, they have taken the responsibility of her treatment upon themselves. We checked with the family a couple months ago and were glad to be informed that she’s doing very well. They said that she’s now looking for a job in her hometown,” says Ritu.
One comes across many people suffering from mental illness wandering on the streets, with no means of survival or nowhere to go.
While some have lost their way and end up on the streets, some have been left on the streets by their own family. Suffering from mental illness leaves them unable to find work or to look after themselves. All that’s needed is to have a compassionate and understanding approach towards mental illness like Rhea.
“I cannot even imagine what Archana’s family must have gone through these past two years. And there are so many such people wandering the streets. They are seldom as lucky as Archana to find their way back. There’s no use of saying ‘What can we do?’ There’s always something to do. Even if you don’t have the expertise or the money or the time to help the person, you can always connect them to someone who can help them,” says Rhea.
To know more about Shraddha Rehabilitation Foundation, visit its website here.