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Khushboo Sharma

IWB Blogger

A Social Worker Shares The Story Of Rehabilitating A Schizophrenic After Her Term In Jail

  • IWB Post
  •  July 1, 2019

As IWB has already shared the story of Prayas, you must be aware that it is a TISS Field Action Project dedicated to transforming the lives of vulnerable groups coming in contact with the criminal justice system.

Dedicated to the rehabilitation of women prisoners for the last 28 years, Prayas has been earnestly striving to give these women a new lease of life with the help of its dedicated team of social workers. Ashmira Hamirani, who until recently worked with Prayasas as an aftercare worker, shares her experiences of arranging for shelter and other supports for released women prisoners.

She shares that her area of work was a relatively challenging one since finding a suitable shelter for these women is no cakewalk. “There are just a handful of shelters in Mumbai and only one of them is run by the government. Even with the limited number of shelters, getting a place for our clients was not an easy task. They have inhibitions regarding women who have been to the prison, especially regarding their conduct,” explains Ashmira.

She adds, “Many a time, they tell us that it is not possible for them to admit our clients as they have behavioral issues and they tend to get into fights. While this is not always correct, it is true that due to these women coming from very difficult pasts, they tend to lose faith in people more easily and likely to get into conflicts. They have been through really difficult times and it reflects in their behaviour.”

However, having worked in the field for close to three decades now, Prayas has made a rapport with a few of the shelter homes who generally agree to accommodate their clients after an undertaking from Prayas that it would take responsibility for any untoward incidents.

The problem, however, gets even more pronounced in cases of clients struggling with mental health issues. Having worked on a number of such cases, Ashmira testifies to it. She shares with me Anita’s case (name changed to ensure confidentiality), a woman who was arrested for ticketless travelling.

Ashmira begins, “Anita’s case was a particularly challenging one. As soon she was brought to the prison, the authorities started observing behavioral issues. The other clients of Prayas who were in the same prison also complained that she was talking in a weird manner and saying things that did not make sense.”

She further explains, “For instance, she had been addressing our social worker Pradnya Tai as “mummy.” After her release, she was initially transferred to a shelter home. When we went to pay a visit to her the next day (a routine procedure to ensure the well-being of the client), we were told that she has been walking around with a big bamboo stick, which made the people around really scared of her. To add to it, she kept talking aggressively.”

Thus Ashmira decided to consult a doctor for Anita’s case. “We took her to JJ Hospital where she was admitted and diagnosed with schizophrenia. The doctors asked us to keep her admitted for a month. It wasn’t an easy task.  We were yet to trace her family and arranging caretakers was thus a difficult task,” she shares. Luckily some student volunteers offered to help.

Ashmira faced yet another challenge when the doctor who was treating Anita suggested electric shock treatment for her and she was the one who had to make the final decision. She explains, “I wasn’t very convinced about the method of treatment. I was facing ethical dilemmas in making a decision for someone who didn’t even know me well. However, someone had to decide for her and I eventually gave a green flag. Fortunately, her condition improved within a month.”

Once her condition stabilized and her aggression subsided, the next step was to trace Anita’s family. “We tried approaching organizations with her case with a hope that someone might know about her. Finally, one day while I was talking to Anita, she was able to recall her uncle’s phone number. We found out that her uncle was located in Odisha and sent a social worker for a home visit,” says Ashmira.

She goes on, “Her uncle told us that her name was not what she had told us. He also shared that she was married into some family in Andhra Pradesh. But he wasn’t in touch with her family and refused to take the responsibility of reaching out to them.”

The home visit gave the case a direction as Prayas got to know that Anita’s marital family was somewhere in Hyderabad. Now, all they had to do was to trace their address which didn’t seem like a herculean task, especially after having made it so far.

Ashmira shares, “Anita could only give us a vague idea of her locality. We approached a couple of organizations in Hyderabad with the scattered bits of information. However, all of it was very generic and therefore nothing really worked until we visited Hyderabad where we finally found her family. She was married to a man and also had a son with him.”

Anita’s family told Prayas that she had a history of mental illness as well as a history of falling off the medication routine. Turns out, she lost her way while travelling to her home in Odisha and thus ended up in Mumbai where she was arrested for ticketless travelling.

“Her family was really relieved and more than happy to be united with her. We still follow up with the family. Her son accompanies her to the hospital visits now,” says Ashmira.

Needless to say, right from making a crucial health decision for someone to tracing their family with absolutely no leads whatsoever is a toiling task. However, the social workers at Prayas persevere through it all as they strive for the betterment of their clients.

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