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.

 One day, soon after turning seven, she suffered an epileptic fit. We rushed her to the hospital but she continued getting fits. I sold the little gold I had to fund her treatment but her condition deteriorated. Now, she cannot even perform basic tasks like going to the toilet or dressing herself.” Three years ago, Savita took Amrika to the Government Mental Health Hospital in Shahibaug. “The doctors on duty told me I had to stay with her for 24 hours in the hospital. I had other kids too. Since there was no one to take care of them I had to make the tough choice of depriving Amrika of treatment,” she said, ruefully.
 Savita leaves Amrika in the care of her younger siblings when she goes to the wholesale market in Jamalpur at 5 in the morning to purchase vegetables. She says, “I came here with my husband Mangesh about 30 years ago. The locals know me. Some of them stop to give money or food. Till some years ago, an old lady who used to visit the temple regularly would check on Amrika every day. She was very kind and would often give us grains and groceries. After she died, we fell on dire straits again.” Right from travel concession to the family’s health insurance, the state and the central government jointly has 11 different schemes for special needs people. Amrika’s mother has no idea about even one of these benefits.
The state government has five schemes, while central government has at least six schemes exclusively for the mentally ill. The Niramaya scheme under The National Trust formed by the Ministry of Social Justice gives medical insurance to the mentally ill up to Rs1 lakh against a premium of Rs 250. Similarly the ‘Swavlamban Yojana’ by the Ministry of Social Justice covers the mentally ill as well as their family for health insurance up to Rs 2 lakh. Mukesh Patel, who works at a jewellery showroom nearby, says, “I sometimes stop by to check on the child. It is painful to see her plight. We give them money from time to time, but I am surprised that in all these year, no government agency or police or NGO has ever come forward to help this family.”