The planters of The Banyan

Battered, bruised, brutally abused, both physically and sexually, ignored by everybody, eating out of garbage bins and with no place to call home. This was the situation of Chennai’s homeless women with mental illness even just a decade ago. They were an invisible minority, and would have stayed invisible had it not been for two young women who put them firmly back on Chennai’s social agenda.

Vandana Gopikumar, then still a Master's student of Social Work, came across a half-naked, mentally ill homeless woman in absolute distress on the road in front of her college. Nobody else seemed even to notice her. With the help of a close friend, Vaishnavi Jayakumar, she tried to find shelter for the woman. Mental health institutions and NGOs were reluctant to admit the woman in desperate need of medical and psychiatric attention. Several more such encounters over the next few months left the idealistic duo disillusioned and the idea was born that they should do something about the problem themselves.

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The Banyan Fundraiser Rakes in Over $13,000 for India's Mentally Indisposed
Try to imagine the unimaginable plight of the mentally indisposed. Trapped in a mind you have no control over, you hear voices that no one else hears. You’re paralyzed with a terror you cannot fathom…and you stumble, trying to shake loose those infernal voices in your head. Suddenly, in a rare moment of clarity, you glance around and see people averting their eyes or staring at you in naked disgust. And you cringe, unable to comprehend the rejection. If you’re a woman already rendered vulnerable by gender, a disease of the mind makes survival a harrowing hour-to-hour battle.

© 2010