Meet Sugathakumari, a famous Malayalam poet, who shelters and educates the homelessPress Trust of India
It is not just one among the many ordinary care homes for the destitute. In Thiruvavnanthapuram, inmates comprising rape survivors, domestic violence victims and drug addicts fight harrowing memories of their past, get educated and employed and go out with confidence.
As ‘Abhaya’, a path-breaking organisation born here under the aegis of eminent poet-activist Sugathakumari for the deprived in the 1980s, gets ready to celebrate its 30th anniversary next month, it can boast of bringing back cheers to the lives of hundreds of distressed, including the victims of many sensational sex scandals.
Despite funds crunch and lack of adequate amenities, Sugathakumari, founder secretary of Abhaya, says the sparkles of hope and confidence in the face of inmates is the real testimony for the success of institution. The ‘Saraswathi Samman’ laureate poet also said she wished to launch rehabilitation centres of mentally-ill in all 14 districts of the state and a proposal in this regard had already been submitted to the state government.
“Thirty years have passed now and we could give ‘abhayam’ (refuge) to hundreds of deprived, abandoned, neglected and outcastes in our institution during the period,” she told PTI. “Despite all the shortcomings, we could give support and confidence to a number people to fight their odds and come back to normal life,” she said.
Born out of a deep concern for helpless mental patients of government hospitals in Kerala in 1985, ‘Abhaya’ was initially envisaged as a rehabilitation centre only for them. It has now grown into a multi-unit institution comprising treatment and rehabilitation centres for mental patients, de-addiction centre, care home for deprived girl children, short-stay homes for women and so on.
A chance visit of ‘teacher’, how Sugathakumari is fondly called by close associates, at the government mental hospital in Thiruvavnanthapuram had led to the birth of ‘Abhaya’. “Till our intervention, mental hospitals in Kerala were isolated asylums. What I saw at the hospital during my visit was beyond words to explain. Patients, half naked and wounded, were screaming in pain and hunger. They were locked up in filthy rooms. Many of them held my legs and cried for food,” Sugathakumari said.
The 81-year-old poet said frequent struggles led to such hospitals being thrown open to public scrutiny and the mental health scenario in the state has undergone a healthy change. The services of ‘Abhaya’ has widened now with the opening of ‘Abhayagramam’, spread over a 10-acre stretch in Malayinkeezhu village in the outskirts of the city in 1992.
The foundation stone of ‘Abhayagramam’, the nerve centre of Abhaya’s multifaceted activities, was laid by Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, whose touching words then has been her inspiration throughout the years to work for the depressed.
“The Dalai Lama had said let this land be a refuge for the homeless and the most unfortunate. I have toiled hard to fulfil his words all these years,” she said. Eight units now function under Abhaya, which include ‘Karma’, a care home for treated and controlled mentally ill, ‘Sradha Bhavanam’, short and long-term care home for mentally ill and ‘Mitra’, mental health and de-addiction centre.
It also comprises ‘Abhayabala’, a home for deprived girl children, ‘Athani’, short stay home for women and girls, ‘Bodhi’, treatment centre for alcohol and drug addicts, and ‘pakalveedu’, day care centre for mentally ill. Besides this, a 24 hour women’s helpline and free legal aid for women are also provided there.
Sugathakumari said scarcity of adequate funds is a major challenge they face in carrying forward the activities of ‘Abhaya’, which now houses over 200 inmates and over 80 staff. “We depend only on government grants and individual contributions. Now we are not able to accommodate more people here due to constraints of facilities though we want them to.Employees are also not getting adequate salary,” she said.
“Abhaya is not a religious or community organisation.This is both its strength and weakness. If it is under a particular religion or community, we would have got several lakhs of Rupees as funds,” she said. Sugathakumari had spearheaded the fiercest environmental campaign against a proposal to set up a hydel project in the Silent valley in Western Ghats three decades ago and was also in the forefront of the recent agitation against construction of an airport at Aranmula. The poetess said she would continue to strive to enable the dreams of her ‘children’ become a reality.
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