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Behind Her Successful Idea Lays Early Memories Of Seeing Mom In Mental Hospitals

Mental health refers to the psychological, emotional, and social well-being of an individual. For a long time, societies have had skewed mental illness as a negative driving force making the patients feel ashamed to talk about their problems.

It’s high time we realize that not all wounds are visible, not all illnesses are to be ignored, and not all battles are to be fought alone.

Illnesses do not define a person; their strength and courage does. Your mental well-being is more important than any other ‘seemingly’ important task. Nobody can understand the importance of mental health and the stigma around mental ailments other than Pune’s Bhargavi Davar.

The 56-year-old is a renowned mental health activist, who has dedicated her life to cater to the needs of people suffering from mental impairments. She comes from a family where people have experienced violence and abuse within the system, and used psychiatric services. She works with a strong identity as a survivor, having made conscious choices not to opt for psychiatry even when seriously disabled.

Difficult childhood

Her mother suffered mental health issues and was confined inside mental hospitals. Bhargavi did not quite enjoy the perks of having a ‘normal childhood’ like other kids, rather she felt ashamed, humiliated, and excluded by society and lacked every evidence of self-assertion.

Her early experiences were that of inhuman spaces and trauma due to these psychiatric institutions. It was only several years down the line that she realized that there were many people like her who suffered early childhood mental institution trauma.

Foundation of the Bapu Trust

Watching the immense amount of suffering that her mother had to go through, Bhargavi planned on doing something for people facing similar problems. Her mother’s struggle inspired her to found the Bapu Trust, which is named after her mother. The trust was started in advocacy for human rights based community mental health services.

Having been exposed to mental hospitals, shock treatment, confinement, etc., since she was a kid, she is zealous about methodically addressing the human rights gaps within the mental health system in India while treating cases in an unconventional patient centric manner. The domains of work include research, trainings, and enabling dialogue platforms.

The trust has always spanned two universes of practice, non- medical healing and social justice practice. In building synergy across these two dynamics, the trust has been strongly grounded in the two strong pillars of contemporary healing arts and disability thinking, arts-based therapy and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability.

The trust has programs that include lifestyle changes such as a better diet, meditation, exercise, friends and peers, etc., and they focus on thoughtfulness and prioritize keeping peace. They are developing a healthy community system which concentrates on psychosocial well-being.

“We only hear the perspective of the family or the doctor, the patient is lost in all of these voices,” says Bhargavi, managing director and founder of the Bapu Trust.

Her exemplary work

Alongside this, Bhargavi is currently working on two book projects, several research papers, and reports linking culture, human rights, gender, development, and mental health topics. She is the editor of Aaina, the only national newsletter for mental health advocacy in India, which has successfully seen 20 issues since 2000.

Few of her publications are Psychoanalysis as a human science: Beyond foundationalism, Mental health of Indian women: A feminist agenda, Mental health from a gender perspective, and Gendering mental health: Knowledges, Institutions and Identities.

Bhargavi is a single parent to an eight-year-old daughter. She loves mentoring researchers, fellow workers, young people as well as international scholars in mental health advocacy. She is also a lead organizer with INTAR, the International Network towards Alternatives for Recovery.

We wish her all the best for her endeavours to fulfill her vision of moving towards a community that is vibrant, caring, peace loving and inclusive of every individual.


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