Neesha is suspected to be between 18 and 20 years old (she is uncertain of her own age). She was found at Chatrapati Shivaji Rail Terminus in Mumbai. After settling down in the shelter, she said she was Bangladeshi, had been brought here many years back for domestic work. When she came to Mumbai, she did domestic work with the help of a girl named Munira.
The caseworker went with Neesha for a visit to the home where she had worked and they met Munira, who is from Neesha’s village in Bangladesh. She immediately recognized Neesha and told the caseworker that Neesha has a mental problem and it’s very difficult for her to understand things. Neesha has no parents in Bangladesh and she was brought here by her aunt for domestic work in Mumbai.
After a few days, Neesha mentioned a step-mother and told where she could be found. This place was visited, but it was found that the woman was not her step-mother and Neesha had only been working there as a domestic worker. During this time, Neesha was referred for a psychiatric check up and she was diagnosed with having mental retardation.
The next information received from Neesha concerned a home where she had stayed in Chembur (suburban Mumbai). When the caseworker visited the home, they explained that Neesha had a mental disorder and that she keeps running from one place to another. When she had been staying at the home, she had been in a relationship with a boy and had become pregnant. With the nurses’ help, she delivered a baby in an adoption organization in Goa before returning to Mumbai. Her behavior was violent when she came back and she soon left the home.
As counseling with Neesha progressed, she shared that her aunt stays in Kalva (a suburb of Mumbai); when the woman was visited, she related that she was not Neesha’s real aunt- that she had taken pity on Neesha, giving her shelter and a place to work. During that time, she had gotten married to a boy in Kalva. However due to her mental problem, she would leave the house sporadically and when she came back, she often got violent. Eventually, the boy divorced Neesha and has now married another woman.
Neesha’s behaviour becomes unstable and violent
At this point in Neesha’s stay in Saathi, she started to become violent. Medications given by the psychiatrist had no effect. Her outbursts caused great disruptions in the shelter and day centre and were also creating problems with the local community where the shelter is located. It was determined that she needed to be referred elsewhere where she could receive appropriate assistance as Saathi did not have the requisite training or ability to keep custody of her. The only suitable facility was the Thane Mental Hospital, which treats the mentally ill as well as provides safe shelter for those for whom mental retardation is severe enough to encumber independent living. But the referral could only be done with the assistance of the state machinery as she would need to be officially committed.
Prejudices and Runarounds Abound
Help was sought from the local police in referring Neesha to the mental health facility. However, the Duty Officer at the Agripada Police Station was not cooperative. He initially started complaining that Saathi picked up random girls from roads and presented them as lunatics in front of the police. He then declared that to him, Neesha did not at all appear to be “mad” or “lunatic.” As stated, Neesha had been diagnosed as having mental retardation, not mental illness. That the police officer was referring to lunatics was further proof of his unwillingness to fully understand the situation. He refused to review Neesha’s psychiatric evaluation reports, which clearly stated her as a person with mental retardation. His tack changed when he declared that since Neesha appeared to be over 18 and was from Bangladesh, she was therefore an illegal immigrant, and since Saathi has given her shelter, the police would be filing a case against the organization for harboring an illegal alien. After many back and forths, the police officer finally agreed to allow a lady constable to accompany Neesha and the caseworker for a medical check up at Nair Hospital.
Because Neesha is Bangladeshi, her caseworkers were informed that they would need to approach the Crime Branch (I) as part of the process. When the I-Branch was contacted, they said for such a case, at least 2 documents were needed - one age verification of Neesha and a letter from local police that there is no case against her in the area where the shelter is located. For these documents, the Assistant Commissioner of Police was met, who explained that since Neesha’s name was registered with the G.R.P at Chatrapati Shivaji station, the needed to issue the letter and Agripada police station would not be able to help. The GRP at CST were visited, where the duty officer stated that since Neesha didn’t have any documents and was therefore an illegal immigrant, they could not assist even for the age verification letter.
Since the issue of her illegal immigrant status was creating such a problem, organizations in Calcutta and Mumbai were contacted to determine what the processes of deportation would entail. The caseworker was advised to approach the Ministry of External Affairs. She was also advised that the procedures would take 2 to 3 years, during which time Neesha would need to remain with Saathi.
Mr. Ashley Vergese, an Advocate with the organization Oasis which works with issues of trafficking, heard Neesha’s case and was ready to help by contacting people from Group Development. This organization would help in locating an organization in West Bengal since Neesha can speak well in Bengali. According to Mr. Vergese, Neesha should not be repatriated to Bangladesh as her chances of being trafficked back into India were very high. Therefore admitting her in a protective home considering her mental health is in her best interest. Mr. Vergese’s response was a bright hope to the project staff in the midst of all the complications regarding Neesha’s case.
Neesha’s behaviour and outbursts continue to grow worse since the organization is not able to provide her with the environment which she needs. All avenues to the government mental health institute are closed because she is Bangladeshi.
The project feels that it is in Neesha’s best interest that she is in a protective home where her mental health condition can best be monitored and catered to. It is hoped that an appropriate avenue for this referral will be located soon. Until that time, she is closely watched by the project’s caseworkers and staff counselor and the other girls staying in the shelter attempt to be understanding, as much as they are able.