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  • 24 Jun 2014

Ration cards issued to mentally ill homeless women in Kolkata

Forty one homeless women with psycho-social disabilities were issued with ration cards on 19 June 2014.

The women are all residents of IswarSankalpa’s Sarbari Shelter for Urban Homeless Women with Psycho-social Disabilities in Kolkata. The issuing of their ration cards is seen as a giant leap towards giving mentally disabled people an identity as citizens of India.

The Indian ration card is mainly used for obtaining subsidised food and fuel. It is an important document for economically and socially marginalised people for their subsistence. The card, which is recognised by all public and private organisations, guarantees a host of social support including disability benefits, access to bank accounts, and employment. For marginalised groups it ensures their presence on government databases, and as such is proof of their existence.

When asked what these cards mean to them, Lakkhi, who now has recovered and is undergoing vocational training at the Shelter, said with a big smile: “These are our Identity Cards!”

The last census (2011) counted 70,000 homeless people in Kolkata, of whom about 10 per cent are thought to have some kind of psycho-social disability. There is very little public understanding or sympathy for mental illness in India, in spite of a large volume of research on mental disorders in rural and urban areas. Little has been done to address the stigma attached to mental illness and the lack of rights suffered by people affected.

IswarSankalpa, since its inception in 2007, has worked to provide public mental health services to marginalised groups. It has initiated activities such as psychological and medical intervention, rehabilitation programmes, mental health awareness and protecting the human rights of mentally ill people.

In April 2013, PHF made a grant of Rs.1,004,000 (£11,812) to Iswar Sankalpa for one year to support day care and vocational training work for the homeless mentally ill in Kolkata.

PHF’s renewed support for Iswar Sankalpa, of Rs.9,000,000 (£90,000) over three years, was awarded earlier this year as unrestricted funding, to support the organisation’s operations and to provide stability while it seeks support from other donors. Three quarters will be used for programme interventions, with the remaining funding used for staff development and to create institutional processes to support staff teams. The Foundation’s support amounts to around 10 per cent of IS’s total expenditure.