Magsaysay Award to Saviour for Mentally-Afflicted Destitute
Bharat Vatwani, a psychiatrist who works for mentally ill street people in Mumbai – India, recognized for “his tremendous courage and healing compassion in embracing India’s mentally-afflicted destitute, and his steadfast and magnanimous dedication to the work of restoring and affirming the human dignity of even the most ostracized in our midst”, is one of the six winners of Magsaysay Award 2018. The other five winners are Sonam Wangchuk Ladakhi engineer and innovator also from India, Youk Chhang from Cambodia, Maria de Lourdes Martins Cruz from East Timor, Howard Dee from the Philippines and Vo Thi Hoang Yen from Vietnam. Each of the 6 awardees will receive a certificate, a medallion bearing the likeness of the late President, and a cash prize. Asia’s highest honour – Magsaysay Award that, “celebrates greatness of spirit and transformative leadership in Asia” – in the 60th year of an annual tradition by the Board of Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF), announced on Thursday July 26, 2018 – Magsaysay Award 2018, which will be formally conferred during formal Presentation Ceremonies to be held on Friday August 31, 2018 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
- Bharat Vatwani aged 60 years – Saviour for mentally ill, helped reunite 7,000 mentally ill wanderers with their families since 1997, across the country, and even in Nepal.
- Vatwani started with his wife Smitha – also a psychiatrist, an informal operation of bringing in mentally-ill street persons to their private clinic for treatment.
- Vatwani founded Shraddha Rehabilitation Foundation in the year 1988 with the following objectives:
- To rescue maximum number of mentally ill roadside Destitute’
- To provide free shelter, food and psychiatric treatment to the rescued Destitute.
- To trace out addresses of the Destitute & reunite them with their lost families in any part of India.
- To promote massive mental health awareness among rural villages, families, police personnel, railway officials & general public.
- To network with other NGO’s and Govt Mental Hospitals in other to generate collective efforts’.
- The facility was earlier in a small bungalow in Mumbai’s Dahisar area, and by 2006, the foundation moved to Karjat, on a 6.5-acre plot that Dr. Vatwani bought with donations.
- The Foundation had received support from a flurry of NGOs, police and individual social workers.
- Vatwani raises funds and contributes ₹ 2 lakh every month for the upkeep of the 120 destitute staying at the Karjat home.
“These are the unfortunate men & women whom you often see wandering on the roads, lost in their own world, laughing and talking to themselves, with dirty long matted hair, half naked and skin & bones appearance. They may be just barely surviving on garbage, gutter water and whatever leftovers of food are thrown at them by passer-bys. They are in much worse shape than the poorest of the poor because they have no one, we repeat, absolutely no one to look after them. They are on the roads for weeks/months/years without food, clothing or shelter. No one may give them a second glance and often no one cares whether they live or die. They are stripped of all human dignity, but we believe that they are humans nevertheless.”
Shraddha Rehabilitation Foundation was founded in the year 1988, to deal with the above tragedy of the mentally ill destitute wandering aimlessly on the streets of India.
Gangadhar Vinode now a 46-year-old builder from Pune recalling, how he was affected with schizophrenia as a 17-year-old student of Class XI, said, “I was in Kolhapur and was travelling back to Pune. Instead I landed in Thane and for three days was lying unconscious at the roadside. I don’t know what would have happened if Dr Bharat Vatwani, a psychiatrist, had not treated me”, was among the first to congratulate Dr Bharat Vatwani’s for Asia’s highest honour, the Ramon Magsaysay award, as the man who helped bring dignity to his life.
Dr Vatwani said, “Our work had begun prior to setting up the home. The turning point in my life was in the early 90s when my wife Smita, who is also a psychiatrist, and I noticed a horribly skinny boy drinking gutter water from a coconut shell… After appropriate care and treatment, the boy told us he was a BSc graduate…Mental illness can affect anyone and reduce a person to pathetically inhuman conditions”. “We don’t pick up beggars or homeless who know their way around. The mentally ill are out there on the roads because they can’t find their way back. They get lost because of being delusional”.
The second turning point came when I met Baba Amte at Anandwan. He inspired me to expand my work. That was a trigger for me to move Shraddha Foundation to Karjat.
Dr Vatwani’s meeting with Baba Amte at Anandwan was a turning point when Dr Vatwani came across a schizophrenic destitute who was in chains. Recalling how Baba Amte was anguished at the sight, “His sensitivity drew me to him. It was bonding at its emotional best. While appreciating my work, he encouraged me to do more and that’s when we set up the rehabilitation home.”
“In all my depressing moments if there is one person who continues to inspire me is Baba Amte,” said Dr Vatwani, who lost his father at a young age and was prone to bouts of suicidal depression. “I used to subconsciously end up hunting for a father figure in all the elders that I would meet and my search ended with Baba. He guided me and now this award has recognized the cause of the mentally ill roadside destitute persons.”