The Banyan

The Banyan

The Banyan is an organisation that cares for and rehabilitates homeless women with mental illness found in the streets of Chennai, India. The organisation provides women a safe shelter, care, medical attention, and a supportive environment to enable them to recover and to take responsibility for their lives again. The group also supports the women's return to their families and communities; when this is not possible, it supports the women in setting up new lives for themselves.


Vandana Gopikumar, a Master’s student of Social Work, came across a mentally ill homeless woman in distress on the road in front of her college. 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 23-year-old women disillusioned, leading them to develop The Banyan as an NGO serving Chennai's homeless women with mental illnesses. The organization rented a three-bedroom building to run a care and rehabilitation centre, which they called Adaikalam (Tamil for ‘home’).

Since 1993, The Banyan has reached out to more than 1500 women and reunited around 850 women with their families all throughout India. According to the organization: []

: The vision of The Banyan is to ensure that no mentally ill homeless person is left uncared and unattended for in the streets. With this in mind, The Banyan is taking a strong role in lobbying for the rights of the homeless mentally ill in order to facilitate localised access to mental health care. The Banyan draws its strength from its hundreds of volunteers and well-wishers, whose support is a driving force for making this world a more humane and caring place.

Rehabilitation philosophy

According to The Banyan's website: []

: Although The Banyan offers a comfortable home to women in distress, it is important to remember that The Banyan is not an institution for lifetime patients. The ultimate goals of the project being rehabilitation and empowerment, The Banyan is an effort to reunite the women with their families and to help them reintegrate back into the mainstream society to be able to lead normal lives again. : : The rehabilitation aspect of The Banyan’s work has raised attention and controversy in the public for quite some time. Traditional communities in Indian society do not generally accept the unexplained absence of their female members for any length of time, the place of the woman being either behind the veils of the purdah or in the confines of her parents’ or husband’s house. The ‘problem community’ for rehabilitation purposes has generally been the Indian middle class, where the concept of a woman’s place still seems to hold strong. For instance, a current resident, Sheela, has been waiting to go home for a years, but has not been accepted by the family for whatever the reason may be. In cases like Sheela’s, The Banyan tries to help the resident by arranging work for her either at The Banyan or outside. However, considering the everyday struggle with financial resources, the community of recovering patients staying permanently at The Banyan cannot afford to grow.: : Communities with a lower socio-economic status have generally been more accepting to returning residents, due to a different moral code and difference in beliefs and rituals. Their attitudes have helped so many recovered women unite with their families all over India and allowed us to see many happy reunions, overwhelming as they are when a long-lost member of the family, thought to have no hope in life, walks back home ‘reborn’. For many more such happy endings, The Banyan will continue to lobby for the rights of the mentally ill and to raise awareness in the communities in accepting mentally ill individuals into our society. This involves counselling to those suffering from mental health issues in the community and giving them advice for correct treatment and how best to cope with the emotional baggage brought on by mental illness in the family.

External links

* [ The Banyan]
* [ Profile in "Good News India"]
* [ Profile in "The Week"]
* [ Profile in "The Hindu"]
* [ Profile on "Chennai Online"]

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