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Nursing a mother and her infant with a humane approach

Prathibha Parameswaran

Ambika's case may seem to be a solitary one, but it reflects the problem of a large number of wandering mentally ill women. Ambika's might seem to be a solitary case, but it reflects the problem of a large number of wandering mentally ill women.



CARE NEEDED: Ambika with her new-born child. — Photo: M. Moorthy

TIRUCHI: With her cognitive functions overshadowed by her mental illness, G. Ambika, a 45-year-old woman, could hardly recognise her own newborn daughter.

It takes much coaxing and cajoling on the part of her attenders to get her to nurse the baby. It is left to the four volunteers of `Anbalayam,' a non-governmental organisation that runs a home for the mentally ill at Gundur near Tiruchi, to take turns to feed and keep the baby clean.

Ambika's might seem to be a solitary case, but it reflects the problem of a large number of wandering mentally ill women, who are being subject to exploitation.

The peripatetic lifestyle and their mental illness, both make them more vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse by strangers.

Ambika had taken to the streets after her husband's death, a decade ago and has since been found wandering near the Vennar River at Thanjavur. Though there were a few attempts at rehabilitation with her relatives at Ayyampettai, they were met with refusal. Ambika reveals that she also has an elder daughter, Lakshmi, about 20 years of age at home.

It was not until recently that an anganwadi worker, Padma, a regular visitor in the area spotted a pregnant Ambika near the river and fed her before turning to the help of a voluntary agency in Thanjavur. She came to Anbalayam, with her child, a week back. She has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and remains under psychiatric treatment. Though she could largely be persuaded to feed the child, sometimes she resorts to violence, trying to slap or claw the infant.

"If this could happen to a forty year old woman, there are much younger women roaming the streets with mental illness," points out T.K.S. Senthil Kumar, founder of Anbalayam.

Police, public turn a

blind eye

Police turn a blind eye to the mentally ill patients and the public too shy away from informing any voluntary agency, which are responsible for such instances, he says.

Despite her being found on the streets for about 10 years now, efforts to rehabilitate her had been minimal. "Panchayat presidents could take up the initiative and report such cases to the police or any voluntary institutions," suggests, Mr. Senthil.

He holds the view that the family members too had to be penalised along with the offender for the lack of sensitivity meted out to a mentally ill woman.

Even as the government and voluntary organisations were pushing for creating awareness about safer sexual intercourses, none of the protective measures had been taken in the case of Ambika.

Besides this, no efforts have been taken to trace the offender or register a case on her behalf.

Efforts are on at Anbalayam now to rehabilitate Ambika, while the child will be gradually handed over for adoption.

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