Abject poverty, an abusive father, a mother struggling to make a living for the family and a young brother to take care of is what Manika Majumdar childhood was made of. Manika Majumdar, who is 39 now, migrated from Bangladesh with her family at the age of one and a half to New Barrackpore, West Bengal. She grew up in a rented place, seeing her aggressive father fighting with her mother on a regular basis.
Her father had a hostile nature and he never stayed at a job for too long. It was her mother, who used to run the family through a minimal amount of Rs 3000 which she earned from her job as a nurse at a nursing home.
A struggle that shaped her
When she was studying Class VI, her mother delivered a baby and got sick for the next two months, and the financial condition of the family came to a standstill. After recovering, her mother asked her to take care of the brother while she rejoined her work. It became challenging for Manika to manage her brother, family and the school.
“At that age people have fun, play outside, but what I had to do put tremendous pressure on my mind. I could never be a normal kid, and that pained me,” said Manika while describing her ordeals. With no one to take care of her brother and to do household chores, she dropped out of school. As a girl child, her struggle was worse, as her father kept restrictions on her going out and every other activity and abused her mentally and physically. Later in her life, she realised that her mother was going through mental stress. Like this seven years went by and she got married at the age of seventeen without her consent, at her mother’s behest.
A ray of hope
After marriage, she saw a ray of hope in her husband. Her husband Samir Majumdar, who ran a cycle-repair shop at Mridha Market in Jyotinagar was very supportive of her. She initially joined a Mahila Samiti and soon became the head of a self-help group(SHG) run by the Municipality where she was given the responsibility to collect money from the members. The SHG gave training to women associated with them in embroidery, sewing or as a beautician, to help them earn money on their own or look for work somewhere.
In 2008, she got in touch with Anjali Samastaha, a Kolkata-based NGO which works with the West Bengal government, to provide mental care and rehabilitation to those suffering from depression. The NGO was looking for self-motivated women to train them in aspects of self-leadership, counselling and education so they can help psychosocially disabled people. Manika felt intrigued and was determined to be part of it.
Manika applied for it but didn’t fulfil the necessary criteria of Class 10 pass out. However, on her repeated request, the project officers and other members discussed her case and gave her an opportunity as she had proven to be hardworking and completely committed.
No looking back
“108 of us were taught for over a period of 7 months about mental health, depression and mental torture. They talked about the mind which really intrigued me. For the first time, I felt like I have found a direction in life and a profession where people’s thoughts are given importance. The first lesson was to realise our own traumas and pain points and if I can’t do that myself, how can I help others who are going through mental stress,” Manika said while sharing her experience of the training.
After relentless effort, she along with five other women passed the test and finally became eligible to counsel.
In 2009, the NGO started the Jana Manab Swasthya Kendra (mental health kiosks) where Manika further learned the skill of counselling for the next few months on the job.
Manika’s job was to visit the local hospital and campaign door-to-door in order to make people aware of psychosocial disabilities and to identify people suffering from it, set up awareness camps for the same. Her job also included visiting the stakeholders such as the local councillor, health officers, Municipality chairperson, local schools, clubs, clinics, police station, polio-department, and so on.
Since 2009, she has helped 3,500 marginalised people to overcome depression and has visited over 500 homes in the last three years. Considering that depression is still a taboo topic in the country and there is a misconception that it only affects rich people, Manika’s work in the poorest of the region where very few know and understand mental health, she gets shamed a lot for her work and many times even for her education. Against all the odds, she remains determined and passionate about her work and credits her husband for the constant support he has given to her.
There is a lot one can learn from Manika. Few get traumatised from their struggles, and few learn. Manika is now using her experience of childhood, the abuse she suffered, violence she saw in her family and loneliness she had to go through to understand and counsel other patients of mental health and be empathetic about them.
(Text Source: The Logical Indian)