I begin with the story of the beginning of Iswar Sankalpa – The genesis.
It was a lazy winter afternoon in 2006 when the Late Dr K.L Narayanan and I were strolling down A.J.C Bose Road. As we passed a huge garbage vat in Beniapukur, a man with psychosocial disabilities in tattered clothes eating from the garbage pile, rooted me to the spot. The very fact that a reputed NGO had its home just opposite the garbage vat and the fact that the organization distributed food to all the hungry and poor irrespective of caste, creed and religion made me wonder as to why food was not available for this young man. It was then that Dr Narayanan explained that on one hand, most people will not dare to come near our young man because people are afraid of the ‘mad’ while on the other hand people with psychosocial disabilities may also refuse to accept food because of the symptoms of their illness. Sometimes, they silently pass away from this world simply due to dehydration! And all this time, there is some family somewhere, who may still be waiting for the return of their only son. A child may be passing her childhood still expecting her mother to come back and hold her – A futile wait.
This was the defining moment in our lives – which made us understand that this population on the streets of Kolkata were simply being overlooked by every sector of the Government and Society. This was a population which would never ever access any of the health care facilities or Government welfare schemes because they had lost everything – even their identity to a treatable condition – psychoses.
According to the 2011 Census, there are 70,000 homeless people living in the streets of Kolkata. More than 10% of them have some mental health condition. From an outreach program on the streets of Kolkata which has identified and built a unique pathway of care, involving the police, government hospitals, street vendors, and the community people around the corner of the street where the homeless person with psychosocial disabilities has created a space for himself to a Day Care centre within Hastings Police Station to a Shelter for the Urban Homeless Women with psychosocial Disability – we offer an array of options for the people who had erstwhile only the choice between Life and Death.
The provisional estimates of below poverty line (BPL) surveys in the city pegs the per capita income of the poor in Kolkata at Rs 27 a day. The poor residing in Bengal’s villages are still worse off, earning Rs 21 a day. The national per capita earning in cities and towns is Rs 32, while it is Rs 26 in villages. . Beyond the glitz of the new street lights and fresh paint lies a world of abject poverty where people barely manage to carve out a living.
Iswar Sankalpa has initiated a pilot program to bring affordable and accessible mental health services within the realm of primary health care offered in collaboration with Kolkata Municipal Corporation in 2 wards of Kolkata for the urban poor.
Sarbani Das Roy, Co-Founder and Secretary, Iswar Sankalpa