INDIA – THE MAGNIFICENT ! – A LAND OF PROMISE AND …………..OF MANY SORROWS!
Having been invited TO “TRY AND SEE WHETHER THE THERAPUTIC COMMUNITY APPROACH TO OVERCOME MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS COULD WORK IN INDIA,” I visited Delhi in the eighties, and met with Dr John Henderson of WHO and with the British High Commissioner, and was encouraged by both to pursue this idea vigorously.
A kind civil servant walked me through all the relevant Ministers’ offices, located in a rather poorly maintained building; their welcome was genuine and their advice practical. The proposal coincided with a new 5 year plan on mental health services, and I was assured of Government support and proceeded to brief a sympathetic lawyer to create a Richmond Fellowship Charity.
The intention was to start work – as was done in other countries – in the capital, but Government advised me to establish the first project in Ranchi or in Bangalore. I had heard of NIMHANS, the impressive Mental Health Centre in Bangalore, but was unable to get any response to my calls so, from my Hotel, in which was then called Bombay, I flew out to Bangalore. There I met Dr Reddy, the Head of NIMHANS, who was shortly to retire from his august post, which was a fortunate coincidence as he was to take the leading interest and share in the development of the new Charity.
The history of RFS(I) is a brilliant one and shows the ingenuity and commitment of those who signed up to creating a strong and effective movement for the rescue of those who, for a variety of reasons, were giving up on life. Thanks to the generosity of the British Government, the E.U. and the U.K. National Lottery, funds were raised – first for “Asha” in Bangalore, which became the cornerstone for the growth of the Therapeutic Community movement – and later for Delhi, whilst the incessant efforts, donations and devotion of Doctors and others to relieve the suffering of the mentally ill and their families led to the creation of TC services in Siddlaghatta and – on a bigger scale – in Lucknow.
The first staff came from the U.K. where they had received both experiential and College training, but very soon this was passed to Indian staff, and the integration of TC principles and practice with India’s culture and customs was superb. A very generous Indian family donated a precious piece of land with some building in a lovely part of Bangalore, which made it possible to build a workshop to provide work training for people with mental health problems. Over time, RFS India, more than any RF outside the U.K., followed the RF ideology and assisted its neighbouring countries by providing staff training as well as counsellors in times of stress, i.e. the Tsunami in Sri Lanka.
Richmond Fellowship Society of India, you have done a magnificent job! Dr. Reddy, Mr. Murthy, Dr. Kalyanasundarum, Dr. Khurana, Dr. Agarwal and, since I cannot mention you all by name, all you who have shouldered the burdens and devoted your time and expertise to provide rescue for the mentally ill, may the Government and the people of India reward you by ensuring that you obtain the means, including College training at degree level, to extend your services across India
– that great Land of Promise…………..and of Sorrows – a Land that one cannot but love!