“Who are your friends, Nagaratna?”
“Renuka, Anusha, Srilaxmi”, says Nagaratna with a smile. They were her schoolmates with whom she now sometimes goes to the local Church. Her favourite sermon is when the story of resurrection of Christ is narrated.
Nagaratna Dasari lives in the village of Kannummukala with her mother, father, brother and sister-in-law. It is unusual to see a 23 year old girl living with her parents in rural Andhra. But then Nagaratna’s situation is not a normal one.
Married at the young age of 16 before she even completed her schooling, Nagaratna returned parents’ home very soon. She returned a very different person. She came back depressed. Her behavior was odd. Her in-laws sent her back saying she was ‘mad’.
Her mother, Anantamma, laments that she was beaten at her in-laws’ place. One of the injuries was to her head and since then she has become ‘mad’. Nagaratna was taken to hospitals in Bangalore and the family spent over Rs. 3 lacs trying to get her treated. But Nagaratna remained the same, very often depressed and weeping, sometimes violent and angry. She would not be able to recognize anyone, and often ignored when anyone spoke to her.
It was some 3 years since Nagaratna returned home when she was identified and diagnosed as a person with mental illness through Militha, Timbaktu’s Disability programme. She was taken to Anantapur by the Militha team and thus began her treatment.
The Team Leader of the Militha programs comes by every week to check on her medicines. If he finds that she is low on her medicines, he replenishes it by bringing them from Anantapur. He writes slips indicating which medicine has to be taken at what time. Anantamma, however, cannot read. It is Nagaratna who reads the slips and tells her mother which medication is due.
“She is much better now. She relates with us, does small jobs in the house like filling water and taking care of the sheep kids. Sometimes she even goes out, goes to church”, says Anantamma. “It used to be very difficult earlier. We were shunned by the whole community. People stopped coming to our house. Nagaratna herself was shooed away by close family members. The community never supported us during our crisis”, she recounts.
Nagaratna is now part of the Yesu Sangham, a Cooperative of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in the village. Families, children and adults with disabilities meet regularly, discuss their issues and try to find resolutions. They also save Rs. 50/- a month and the Cooperative’s fund is slowly growing.
Nagaratna is definitely much better today. She is able to relate, answer the questions asked. She loves watching movies and her favourite actor is Rajnikant. She also sings one of her favourite songs.
Being a person with disabilities in rural communities, especially when one is poor is very difficult for the individual concerned and the families. Ostracized, shunned and ridiculed by the community members and treated as a burden by the family, the person with a disability can lead a very lonely life.
The Militha program strives to sensitize communities to the plight of the disabled, and attempts to create an environment which is more inclusive and sympathetic to their situation. As part of the program, cooperatives of PWDs are set up, thrift encouraged, and spaces created for them to share their issues. It also helps them build links with government schemes meant for PWDs and helps them to get their entitlements. Similarly, it also helps them by creating livelihood opportunities so they too can become a earning member of their families, gain economic independence and social acceptance.