Vagrant women aplenty in city

Thousands of wandering women are rescued and housed in shelters across Bengaluru. Many of them are disoriented, mentally ill, and pregnant

The number of wandering and mentally ill women is growing by the day, and finding a safe place to shelter them is becoming a challenge, say NGOs. (Above) Inmates of Abhayashram.

Mamata was spotted near Hoskote, on the outskirts of the city, disoriented, depressed and physically weak. She wore tattered clothes and was begging for food.

Volunteers of Abayashram at Katamnallur in Bengaluru East, eventually found out she was from Odisha. She is married, has two children, and only speaks Odia.

Mamata had boarded a train to Bengaluru from Andhra Pradesh. She wanted to go home to her parents in Odisha but had taken the wrong train.

Hers is not a stray case. Many men and women, in various stages of mental illness, leave their homes and wander away. Most are forgetful---they don’t remember their names, addresses and often have no clue about where they are or where they want to go.

Abayashram is among the organisations working towards rescuing and rehabilitating them. It works from Hoskote and has been active for more than 20 years. Joby Jacob, director of Abayashram, says the organisation gets at least three cases of vagrant or wandering women a week.

“When members of our rescue team spot them, they are half-naked, bewildered and depressed. Most are also victims of sexual abuse and are diagnosed with HIV. Some are pregnant,” Jacob told Metrolife.

The women are either abandoned by their families or have run away. “They are found beside highway restaurants and market places wherever they scavenge for food leftovers,” says Jacob.  

Dream India Network is another organisation rescuing wandering mentally ill people. On an average, it gets seven or eight cases a day. Fr Edward Thomas, founder of the network, says not all people found wandering are mentally ill. 

“Our rescue teams move around vulnerable areas like Marthahalli, K R Puram, Koramangala and Bannerghatta Road to identify these people. Sometimes, people call us and tip us off,” he says. The most recent case is of Sarita, spotted near Mysuru Road. When the rescue team found her, she turned violent and began throwing stones. “After much resistance and with the help of the police we brought her to our shelter,” says Fr Thomas. The second case was a woman found roaming naked on Bannerghatta Road. People living in the area called up Dream India and volunteers rushed to the spot.

Fr Thomas estimates at least 4,000 such women and men are now housed in various shelter homes across the city. How do the rescue teams identify the wandering mentally ill? “You understand just by looking at them. They are murmuring to themselves and talk about things unconnected. They are dirty and have long and unkempt hair,” he says.

Sharing his experience, Fr Thomas says, “We spotted a man by the roadside near Mysore Road. He stood with a stone in his hand and shouted and threatened everybody who went by. I almost got hit when I went near him.”

The numbers of the wandering and mentally ill are growing by the day, and finding a safe place to shelter them is becoming a challenge, explains Fr Edward.

“We have identified land near Nimhans and written to the women and child welfare department to give us 15,000 to 20,000 sq ft to house this category of people. We currently don’t have a single facility for them in the city,” says Fr Thomas. 
Dr Sunil Patil, consultant psychiatrist, M V J Medical College and secretary Indian Psychiatry Society (Karnataka chapter), says most cases he sees are women between 30 and 40 years.

“Some reasons that provoke them to run away from home are abusive partners, stressful situations at the workplace, and hallucinations. They begin to hear voices from within that prompt them to run away,” explains Dr Patil.

In addition to anti-depressant medication, psycho-social aspects play a big role in curing them. “They should be surrounded by people who care for them rather than be harsh on them,” he says. Dr Divyashree K R, consultant psychiatrist, Aster CMI, says a majority of those rescued suffer from schizophrenia. “Sometimes patients with mental retardation can also wander away,” she says.

What to do when you spot a wandering person? 

Dr Divyashree K R, consultant psychiatrist, says the Mental health Act provides for the hospital admission and treatment of a mentally ill person found wandering. This has to be facilitated by an officer in charge of the local police station. “The police need to be informed about the patient. Under MHA of 2017, it is the duty of the officer-in-charge to take the patient for treatment. With adequate treatment and security, many patients can be reunited with their families,” she says. 

Signs to watch out for 

Murmuring to themselves  

Long and unkempt hair 

Dirty clothes 

Restless body language 

(How NGOs identify wandering, mentally ill people)

Help at hand

Abayashram: 9845220194
Dream India: 9110829548
Dr Sunil: 9845219324

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