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A Tribune Investigation
Homes without care - III
Just one home for mentally challenged
Men, women and children are housed together
in an insecure environment
Chitleen K Sethi
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 20
Pinky (name changed) keeps repeating the word chunni. With pleading eyes, short cropped hair, bare bone thin and clad in an old worn out suit, the 16-year-old child’s mind is stuck on the need for a chunni to cover her shoulders.

Pinky and more than a dozen others like her are inmates of the home for the mentally retarded in Punjab, which is run by the Department of Women and Child Welfare in Kapurthala.

The state government has just this one home for the mentally challenged where men, women and children are housed together.

The home here is located near the railway station and is surrounded by a slum. There is no security wall around the home, which is built on eight acres of land. An old rusted gate that the superintendent claimed is kept locked always is guarded by a single guard. The security of the place is a joke as the same building also houses the office of the district officers of the department and there is a constant thoroughfare during weekdays.

The home houses mentally challenged men and women together. There are four boys and 11 girls here. There is a male and female caretaker and though they are to handle boys and girls separately in the absence of one person, the male caretaker handles the women inmates also. The boys are together in a separate single room while the girls are sharing four rooms. Since the home gets clothes only for girls even the boys are clad in suits.

The living conditions in the home too are far from satisfactory. The bathrooms remain unclean and since the inmates cannot complain no one seemed to be bothered. The days the sweeper is absent the bathrooms remain filthy for days. The medical facilities too seemed skeletal. One of the boy inmates had injured himself and was moving about with open wounds.

The superintendent claimed a craft teacher came each day to teach the inmates. An inmate had managed to learn how to stitch clothes. The building has several other rooms, which are either locked or being used as office space. The home has the capacity to house almost 35 inmates. However, it seems the state government can find none for the home. The state government has conveniently left the care of mentally challenged to non-government organisations (NGOs) and social welfare trusts.

“Interestingly, very few police officers in charge of various districts across the state even know about the existence of this home. They are the ones who have to order shifting of such persons who might be found wandering the streets or abandoned by family members to these homes,” said an employee of the department.

Facilities for destitute women in the state are also almost negligible. While there is a widow home being run by the state in Jalandhar, which has over 35 inmates, there is only a single aftercare home for young girls in Amritsar where seven girls are living. The aftercare home takes care of young girls whose parents cannot afford to bring them up or who are orphans and are homeless. This aftercare home has the capacity to house many more women but no one in the department of social welfare seems to be interested in offering help.

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