In the year 2019, HelpAge India, an NGO working for the rehabilitation and welfare of senior citizens, released a shocking report about the deportation and plight of the elderly. According to this report titled ‘Home Care for the Elderly: Call to Action’, India has the second largest population of senior citizens, most of whom suffer from ill health, neglect and abuse and are forced to live in poverty.
Another Bengaluru-based organisation, Nightingales Medical Trust (NMT), found that out of an estimated 25,000 homeless people in the city’s civic body, 7500 were elderly women who were evicted by their children. It is not just numbers, but the lives left to wander on the streets. It was a thought that shook the doctor couple in Ahmedabad. They came forward to help such elders and do something at their level.
Dr. Rajendra Dhmane and Dr. Sucheta Dhamae did their degrees from Kakasaheb Mahaske Homoeopathic Medical College, Ahmedabad in the year 1998. After this he opened his own clinic and decided to do something for the society. He decided that he would not only take care of the patients regularly, but also organize free health check-up camps and would also feed the poor and homeless people.
One incident changed the direction of work
Dr. Rajendra The Better India “We always wanted to do something for the society. In the year 2000, we decided to help the destitute people living on the road. While serving, we met many such elders, whose families had thrown them out of the house. The mental condition of most of them was not good. They were not even able to arrange their own food.
He took this problem very seriously. Together they started Molly Seva Pratishthan in the same year. The goal of his NGO was to feed around 90 homeless people in a day. But an incident in 2007 changed the direction of his working.
Rajendra, 40, says, “I was going to the clinic. On the way, he saw a destitute woman taking out from the dustbin and eating left over food and dirt. I was deeply saddened by his condition. I extended my tiffin towards him. Everything had changed in that moment.” After coming home, Rajendra talked to his wife about this and after much deliberation he realized that just feeding the needy is not enough. Now we have to go further than this. They were thinking of giving a safe place to the destitute.
The condition of homeless elderly women is very painful
The problem of homeless elderly is much worse than it appears. Dr Suchita said, “The mentally ill women who are thrown out of the house. They need more help. While feeding homeless people, often many women shared their safety and rape with me, which goes unreported.”
She adds, “Women who have poor mental health are more vulnerable. If she tells anyone about her rape or even wants to report it to the police, no one believes her. To avoid such people, she often sleeps on road dividers or street corners at night.”
Many women in the NGO spoke of rape
One such elderly victim said, “I was raped by two men a few years back. When I asked him to report to the police, he threatened to kill me. There is no one left alive in my family. My son also died, I have found my new home in this centre.”
In many cases, families throw mentally ill women or relatives out of their homes, leaving them to die on the road, despite the financial situation being better. Dr Sucheta says, “Mental illness should be treated like any other disease. If treatment is received on time, then the situation does not get worse. Our aim is to help the destitute women on the street and prevent any such possible incidents from happening.”
She said, “As a woman, seeing such a problem, how could I ignore it? Women needed a ‘place’ to protect themselves from such wrong people and get better treatment. Mental health is a sensitive subject and society generally does not pay attention to it. We want to fulfill all the needs of such women and remove all their miseries.”
Residential center built with the help of father
The Dr. couple had decided to work in this direction. Rajendra went to his father Bajirao for help. His father, a retired teacher, had 673 yards of land on the outskirts of the city and then by mutual consent the land was converted into a safe place or a residential center for women above 18 years of age.
According to Dr Rajendra, they make arrangements for accommodation, food and clothing for all the needy women. Those whose mental condition is not good or there is any other physical illness, they are treated. Many of them remain in this center for the rest of their lives. The family members do not accept him even after treatment.
Describing his routine, he says, “At 6 in the morning everyone gets up to have breakfast. Volunteers help them, patients who need more or more special care are seen separately. They are assisted at every step in day to day activities.”
A home away from home
To run this organization, they get financial help from many organizations. “There has been no help from the government, nor did they ever try for it,” he said. Till now both of them have helped more than 500 women. Around 350 women are leading a better life at the centre. Some have even died due to old age or disease.
Dr Rajendra says, “Some women victims of rape give birth to children as well. Today we are raising 29 such children. They are growing up in a happy and safe environment.” Monica Salve, who was once suffering from severe mental illness, came to the center in the year 2013.
She says, “I was mentally and emotionally broken. Tried to get treatment from private hospital and doctors also. But all was in vain. Eventually my family left me alone. This made my mental condition worse. But I was fortunate that I got to know about Molly Seva Pratishthan in time.”
good intentions are not enough
Monica underwent a long treatment for a year and today she has come out of depression. Monica says, “Now I have started helping in the day-to-day activities of the organization. Actually, I have become a part of it now. Some women are unable to handle their children. He is not stable on a mental or emotional level. I also take care of their children. I want to see him become self-sufficient in life.”
When working in the social sector, just good intentions are not enough. Dr Rajendra explains that it took him many years to gain the trust of the society and government agencies. Rajendra recalls, “We were authorized and registered with the Mental Health Authority of Maharashtra from day one. But when we approached them to seek permission, the officials not only questioned our intentions but also doubted us.”
Sometimes it becomes a challenge to perform the last rites and complete the medical formalities of the women. He says, “It has taken many years to convince the officers and make them understand about their work. Though we have got the full support of our family, people around also made fun of us and doubted our success.”
An attempt to make the organization financially strong
Many times such women come to the center who need immediate treatment. Then they have to struggle a lot for the cost of treatment. There is always a search for new institutions for financial help. For a permanent solution to this problem, this couple is now working on the model of making their organization financially strong. They
“We have set up a dairy farm and a bakery unit at the centre. This will also give employment to the people and some money will also come in hand. With this, we will also be able to arrange medicines on time for all women and they will also be taken care of properly.” Working at the grassroots level, one must keep assessing the impact of that work. Sometimes an effort you make looks like a drop in the ocean. But in reality it is a wave of change.
Dr Sucheta says, “Sometimes I feel that we are able to help only 500 women. We should have made arrangements for the accommodation of one to two thousand women. But on the other hand again I think that this issue should be tackled from the root so that institutions like ours are not needed. Mentally afflicted women should be thrown out of the house and left on the streets, the family members will have to be closed.
Original article: Himanshu Nitnaware
Editing: Archana Dubey
Also read: Cafe closed due to Covid but did not give up, made auto rickshaw an ambulance to help people
If you’ve been inspired by this story, or want to share any of your experiences with us, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Facebook & Twitter Twitter Contact on