Amrika is a reflection of our society and our present times. A National Mental Health Survey recently patted Gujarat for doing ‘exceptionally well’ when it comes to taking care of its mentally ill. Look at Amrika, look at her picture again. Amrika is mentally ill. And she is tied up 24/7. We do not know how old she is. She does not have an Aadhar card. In fact, she does not have any proof of existence.
At an age, she should be running around and exploring her world, she is imprisoned – tied to a crate of stones on the pavement outside the Shiv temple near Ankur Crossroads that she calls her home. Mirror was not keen on taking Amrika’s photograph. But Savita Patni, her mother, feels that the world should know that it is not easy to be poor, or have a mentally ill child. And it is worse if you are both poor and mentally ill. Savita loves her child, but the family is poor, illiterate and has no means of giving this child a better life.
“If I do not tie Amrika up, she will either run away, get raped or come under a bus,” Savita says. Do we want to still pat our backs that the survey, conducted by NIMHANS Bangalore and supported by the Centre, ranks Gujarat after Assam and Uttar Pradesh in taking care of its mentally ill? Savita sells vegetables for a living. The 48-year-old works 10 hours but does not make more than Rs 150 a day. She has seven mouths to feed.
“Two of my kids are married. One of my sons is an alcoholic who does not contribute anything to the family,” she says. Life has lost all hope for her. But this was not always the case. In fact, Savita tells Mirror that she and her husband were very excited about the pregnancy. The parents had heard of America – the land from which NRIs come and spend lots of money. So they named the baby America. She later became Amrika to her illiterate family. Seven years ago, her husband – a vegetable vendor who used to drink quite heavily – suddenly vomited blood and collapsed on the pavement.
He died on the way to the hospital. To feed her kids, she took over selling vegetables on the opposite side of the road from where Amrika is tied. “It breaks my heart to keep her tied. What option do I have? Amrika needs constant supervision. I tie her up for her safety,” she says. Shabbily dressed, Amrika drags around the crate of stones – the cord chaffing her tender skin. There are rope burns on her wrists, some of which still bleed. Teary-eyed at the condition of her thirdborn, the 48-year-old recollects a time when Amrika was born a healthy child. “She was bright and would even help me with housework.