Wednesday, February 8

A crusader who fights for the mentally ill

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Ratnaboli Ray’s foray into the often-cruel world of mental health was made in her childhood when she witnessed her close relatives being treated apathetically owing to their diagnosed mental health conditions. This led her to take up psychology for higher studies and train herself to become a professional clinical psychologist. She worked extensively with drug users and their families in the slums of Kolkata. She moved on to pioneer the first day-care centre and short-stay home for the children of sex workers in the city.

But it was a job with a reputed organisation working towards rehabilitation of people incarcerated in government mental hospitals, where she became fascinated with a social justice and human rights angle in mental health.

Ray trained a team and designed a new programme of “planned stay” and rehabilitation for newly-released “non-criminal lunatics” of a local prison. Her first experience of working inside a prison gave her a close view of the system induced misery that inmates suffer. Around this time she was also the volunteer coordinator for the Forum for Mental Health Movement, which, under her leadership, attracted several key organizations and activists from across the country. In 1999, Ray received the coveted Ashoka Fellowship. Ashoka identifies and supports global leading social entrepreneurs, mobilizing a global community to adopt innovative frameworks. With this fellowship, Ray decided to launch her reformative strategies at the then Pavlov Mental Hospital in the city, now called Kolkata Pavlov Hospital.

The initiative was sanctioned by the state health minister and head of the state human rights commission.

In 2001, Ray formalized her work and founded her organisation, Anjali. She assembled a team of occupational therapists, creative therapists, counselors, rehabilitation and other experts experts to move into the Pavlov Mental Hospital with planned interventions. “We developed an occupational, creative, recreational, and rights-based curriculum whose ultimate aim was social inclusion and citizenship for the residents who were recovered and abandoned,” said Ray.

Anjali now employs nearly 60 persons for its three chief programmes in all mental hospitals of West Bengal, four regions for its community mental health programmes and a think tank to develop the organisation’s advocacy and research. Ray has received several accolades and awards.

The significant one is the Alison Des Forges Human Rights Defender award conferred on her in 2016 by the Human Rights Watch, New York, for outstanding activism. She became the first and only Asian woman recipient of the award.

“Ray is a pioneer in the field of mental health in not just Bengal but India as well. It is her efforts that led to destigmatising of mental health and looking at it beyond the medical aspect to speak about the psycho-social reasons and treating people with mental health issues as fully capable individuals,” said Anuradha Kapoor, managing trustee and founder of Swayam that is committed towards ending violence against women.

Source: The Times of India

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