A principal in rural Rajasthan teams up with a psychiatrist in Singapore to spread awareness on mental health
The principal of a private school in a small town in Hanumangarh district of Rajasthan, is not only working for the cause of education, but is also a leading participant in a movement to spread awareness about mental health awareness amongst rural inhabitants in Rajasthan as well as Haryana and Punjab.
Amarpal Singh Verma 7 April 2023 6:47 AM GMT
When he is not at school, Mahavir Goswami, the principal of Bal Navjeevan Senior Secondary School in the small town of Sangaria, can be seen walking around the bylanes of villages and hamlets in Hanumangarh district of Rajasthan where his school is located. For the past 12 years, Goswami has been selflessly and tirelessly running a campaign to address issues around mental health and drug abuse among the villagers.
Organising health camps, helping villagers connect with counsellors and psychologists is not part of his job as a principal, but the 48 year-old educator has gone beyond the call of duty to fight the growing problem of mental illness. And it hasn’t been an easy journey.
“This campaign has been a challenge since many people in rural areas are unaware of mental health issues and psychiatric care and that they can be treated,” Goswami told Gaon Connection. “Even to get them to listen to us was difficult and there were times they were positively hostile when we approached them to talk to them about their family member who was being mistreated or chained up due to some mental illness,” he added.
But Goswami’s efforts have found full support from psychiatrist Dr Dhanesh Kumar Gupta, who lives about 6,500 kilometres away in Singapore. A senior consultant at the government-run Institute of Mental Health in Singapore, Dr Gupta hails from Sangaria village in Hanumangarh and has a special interest in addressing health issues in his homeland. Goswami is originally from the nearby village Nagrana.
Both the principal and the psychiatrist have teamed up to organise awareness drives and health camps to screen rural population for mental health issues and provide them some medical support.
The mental health campaign that began in Hanumangarh has now spread to other districts in Rajasthan such as Churu, Sri Ganganagar and Bikaner. It is also making a difference in Sirsa in Haryana, and Sri Muktsar Sahib and Faridkot districts in Punjab.
It was five years ago that Goswami became the principal of Bal Navjeevan Senior Secondary School. Along with education, the teacher always had a spirit of social service and he joined Samaj Sudhar Manch, a social work organisation in Sangaria. It is through this social organisation that his paths crossed with that of Dr Gupta.
Back in August 2010, this social organisation had organised a de-addiction camp in the area and many renowned psychologists and psychiatrists took part in it. Psychiatrist Dr Gupta was there, all the way from Singapore. Gupta was at that time working on a project that was to help people with mental health issues, and he discussed the matter with Goswami.
Dr Gupta was concerned at the way people with mental health were treated in the rural areas of Sangaria. He had seen how they were sometimes just chained up and left to languish. When he won a fellowship under the Hafri Alumni Award, for Rs 20 lakh, Gupta decided to have a mental health campaign in Sangaria.
It was when he visited Sangaria to start planning the campaign, he met Goswami. He asked Goswami if he would be willing to work for the campaign, and the teacher immediately agreed.
Spreading awareness on mental health
Dr Gupta launched the campaign in January 2011. He did this under the auspices of Nishkam Foundation, a non-profit based in Gurgaon, Haryana, that works in the field of Mental Health and Drug Abuse.
He would visit Sangaria for a two-day mental health camp every month from Singapore for those who needed psychiatric help. It is principal Goswami who has been handling all the arrangements to make the two-day camp a success since 2011.
Goswami has been involved with the campaign since 2011, taking care of all the operational needs. He has also been visiting the remote villages in the area along with a team to spread awareness about mental health. He has held drives and talks in the villages telling people about the importance of mental health and how they could tell if anyone had a problem.
It was the teacher’s tireless efforts that made the first awareness campaign a huge success as many people turned up with friends and relatives who were suffering from one form of mental health issue or the other.
One of the special campaigns Nishkam Foundation runs is the one to liberate all those who have been kept chained up like cattle on account of their mental health problems. The Mukti Campaign as it was named was launched in February 2014.
Goswami surveyed the area and identified the homes where this was happening and after gathering enough information about such patients, he ensured the patient was treated and liberated from the chains. So far, 120 such people with mental health problems have been freed.
Many of them had resorted to sorcery to try and cure their afflicted family members. “One person was kept chained for 15 years in a village in Churu district. His mother believed that sorcery was the only cure while his brother was more open to exploring other avenues. Similarly, we had to struggle to get the family members of a girl who was kept chained up to even listen to us,” Goswami said.
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Mental health camps
“Nishkam Foundation has organised 163 mental health awareness camps so far. More than 7,500 people with mental health problems have attended these camps and been counselled and treated. We are committed to the cause,” he said.
“Goswami has been working selflessly on this campaign for 12 years. He is a shining example of a devoted, tireless and dedicated team player,” psychiatrist Dr Gupta, who is also the founding president of Nishkam Foundation, told Gaon Connection.
According to him, there are nearly 200 members in the team involved with the campaign. “Each and every team member is vital. Each brick is invaluable in a building. Goswami is the pillar that holds up the entire edifice,” Dr Gupta added.
Goswami co-ordinates and works with the 200-strong team. He is in constant touch with 25 doctors who are involved in this exercise. He keeps the channels of communication open and efficient between seven districts in three states and is in constant touch with more than a 100 donors and supporters of the programme. “This is a tremendous responsibility that Goswami discharges,” Dr Gupta said.
Goswami began his teaching career 22 years ago at a local school, after completing his Masters in English followed by a Bachelors in Education.