Trapped By Design

A Painful Tale of Suru Bindhani


A forty-year-old woman from Odisha named Suru Bindhani came to West Bengal's Hooghly district eight years ago after losing her mental balance. She was rescued by Tarakeswar Police Station and was handed over to an NGO Jana Shiksha Prochar Kendra in Hooghly district on 6th February 2016 on the order of Chandannagar Sub-Divisional Magistrate. She recovered within a few months. Then twice her family members came to take her back. But these illiterate people were inexperienced about government regulations and bureaucratic intricacies, Twice they were turned back for lack of "proper documents". This time some employees of the NGO helped them to prepare "proper documents". Documents included a photocopy of the order by which she was admitted, and a certificate from the Panchayat head of the area as proof that the persons coming to take her back were her relatives. The Panchayat Pradhan records their relationship, signs with the date, and stamps each person's photo. Those who come to take her bring originals and photocopies of their own and if possible resident's government identity card. Based on these documents the Magistrate, who admitted her, directed the concerned NGO to hand over the resident to her relatives. There is no difficulty even if the old Magistrate who admitted her is transferred; the new Magistrate can make the release order. Suru's son and son-in-law met the Chandannagar Subdivisional Magistrate on 24 January 2024 with the necessary documents. Chandannagar Subdivisional Magistrate's office now said that the NGO has to write a letter requesting Chandannagar Subdivisional Magistrate to release the resident, then he will order the resident to be handed over to her relatives. Although earlier many residents had been handed over to relatives by order of various Sub-Divisional Magistrates, no such letter was required. However all the documents were sent to the NGO on WhatsApp, and the NGO was also informed about the whole matter. The NGO now mailed the documents along with a letter to the office of Chandannagar SDO. The letter requested the SDO to hand over the resident to her relatives.   The magistrate now asked the District Social Welfare Officer (DSWO) whether to release the resident in their hands. Chandannagar SDO then gave the phone number of the District Social Welfare Officer to Suru's relatives and asked them to speak to DSWO. The District Social Welfare Officer instead of asking the NGO himself for the documents, told the relatives to tell the NGO to mail the relevant documents to his office. Earlier the clearance from District Social Welfare Officer was not necessary before the release of residents. However, the documents were already given to Chandannagar Subdivisional Magistrate's office by Suru's son and son-in-law, which were also mailed from the NGO, but he did not send the documents to the District Social Welfare Officer. Earlier the NGO sent documents to SDO but this time refused to send the same to District Social Welfare Officer's office. For one thing, if the District Social Welfare Officer himself asked for the documents from the NGO, the NGO would have been forced to send them. The next day (25.01.2024 ), Suru's son visited the office of Chandannagar Sub-Divisional Magistrate and said that if SDO needs any document other than the ones they have already brought to release his mother, SDO should give it in writing with his stamp and signature. In response, the SDO wrote on a plain white paper that all the documents should be submitted to the office of the District Social Welfare Officer. When the District Social Welfare Officer was called, he said to submit all the documents to the "Jan Shiksha Prochar Kendra" NGO "Jan Shiksha Prochar Kendra" accepted the documents but the management did not provide any receipt copies. And wrote on a white paper, to visit the social welfare section of Sadar block (subdivision), Balasore district of Odisha. It is not understood why block and sub-division were written at the same time! They were not allowed to take any pictures of Suru. In this situation, Suru's son and son-in-law got out of there bought general tickets for the unreserved compartment, and took the night train to go back to their Odisha village home. Poor illiterate people, that's how they suffer.

Suru's family members came and went back three times in the last eight years. The first two times they came without proper documents but this third time they came with proper documents. Still, Suru could not go back home due to at least the inefficiency and negligence of government officials and NGOs. Suru's family members are unlikely to come again to take her home. Now government has to take complete responsibility for sending back Suru to her home. If the government fails, the fate of Suru will be like many other "lifer" residents. There is a similarity between them and prisoners who are imprisoned till death. The only difference is that there is no complaints of illegal activities against them. At some time in their lives, they were mentally ill and lost their route to home and came to some unknown place. A report of this case has already been published in "Sambad" Oriya daily of its Bhubaneswar edition on 12th February 2024. Incidentally, it may be mentioned that in this report inefficiency and negligence on the part of the West Bengal government and NGO didn't come up. Reading this report one may think, Suru's relatives didn't go to the proper office with the proper documents, so how can she be released? It is not reported there that this time Suru's relatives went to the proper office with the proper documents. It is not reported there that the NGO management received the documents and denied giving a receipt against it. Still one hopes this report will make the file move in government office and Suru will be released. But to date, Suru has not been released.

It is not known whether the government officials and NGOs know the Act properly. Or do they simply neglect work, avoid responsibility, and think that they can do whatever they like, that these "vain" people are powerless? Incidentally, NGOs receive money from the government as per the number of residents. As a result, NGOs often do not want the residents to move out to lead normal life or go back to their homes. It is not known if the government employees somehow got involved with this unfair practice making an unholy nexus. However, this correspondent has seen the same thing in those NGOs that claim to do "rehabilitation" work for the mentally ill with thousands of rupees per month. They don't work to that direction so that mentally ill residents go back home or live independently. In truth they exploit residents while making money unscrupulously.

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Vol 56, No. 43, Apr 21 - 27, 2024