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The Genesis of The Banyan [PDF]

Battered, bruised, brutally abused, both physically and sexually, ignored by everybody, eating out of garbage bins and with no place to call home. This was the situation of Chennai's homeless women with mental illness even just a decade ago. They were an invisible minority, and would have stayed invisible had it not been for two young women who put them firmly back on Chennai's social agenda.

Vandana Gopikumar, then still a Master's student of Social Work, came across a half-naked, mentally ill homeless woman in absolute distress on the road in front of her college. Nobody else seemed even to notice her. 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 idealistic duo disillusioned and the idea was born that they should do something about the problem themselves.

The girls started growing the seeds of The Banyan in 1993, after Vandana finished her Master's in Medical and Psychiatric Social Work and Vaishnavi dropped out of her MBA to join her. They were 22 then. The Banyan started off as a shelter and transit home for homeless women for mental illness who had wandered from their homes across the country and ended up in the streets of Chennai. One of the duo's core beliefs was that the women needed to receive timely treatment and to be rehabilitated in mainstream society. Sixteen years on, The Banyan is now able to reach out to women and men of a variety of levels to support them on their journey to recovery: the duo's beliefs have been vindicated.