How it began at Paripurnata Half-Way Home

The main force behind Paripunata Half-Way Home is Dr. Joyce Siromoni. A medical graduate (1954) from Christian Medical College, Vellore and D.(Obst.) RCOG from London (1960), Dr. Siromoni has worked in various hospitals in the U.K. and India. She has also been involved in various community health programmes including care of leprosy patients.

In 1967 there came a single most important turning point in her life, when she helped to establish The Medico Pastoral Association, Bangalore, India’s first Halfway Home and helmed it as Honorary Secretary.

She moved with her family to Kolkata in the late eighties. At that time, social activists across the country were raising awareness about the plight of the mentally ill patients; who because of paucity of accommodation in mental hospitals, were consigned to prisons, ostensibly for their own safety. They were termed Non Criminal Lunatics (NCLs), but were treated like criminals in appalling and subhuman conditions without treatment and without any hope to ever recover from their ailments and to reunite with their near and dear ones.

One day in 1990, after reading an article on the same, Dr. Siromoni decided to visit the jails for herself. She was shocked at what she saw – people locked in dark, dingy, unhygienic cells for years on end without having committed any offence. This situation troubled her to no end.

She got together with a few like-minded folks and formed a group to delve deeper into the matter. They deliberated on various options and decided that the model of a Halfway Home, would be ideal for their rehabilitation. This was based primarily on Dr. Siromoni’s experience at NIMHANS, in Bangalore. The model envisages a residential psychosocial rehabilitation process involving pharmacotherapy, counselling, occupational therapy and socio-cultural therapy.

This led to the establishment of Paripurnata, the first Halfway Home in Eastern India, in 1991. A portion of an old dilapidated building, belonging to the Probation and Aftercare Association, left unused for 25 years, was renovated to accommodate six beds. An initial funding of Rs 10 lakh came from Juthica Stangl, on behalf of Shadhika Foundation, a USA based non-profit organization (www.shadhika.org). An ex-convict, who had a good report of her prison term, became the first house mother of Paripurnata.

A great recognition came unexpectedly in late 1992. A Judicial Commission, constituted by the Supreme Court of India in response to a Public Interest Litigation on the conditions of the mentally ill persons, visited Paripurnata and examined its process of psychosocial rehabilitation. In its report titled “Unlock the Padlock – Mental Health Care in West Bengal” (Jan. 1993) the Commission recommended that, the process and the method followed by Paripurnata should be replicated in every district of the State!

Further, in 2000, Paripurnata was granted a plot of land on lease from the government of West Bengal and 6 years later the halfway home was fully functioning from the new building. Today, the organisation can accommodate for upto thirty women.

Dr. Siromoni led the reigns of the organisation as Honorary Secretary till 2010, when she moved to Chennai. She continues to play an advisory role to the organisation, as a permanent invitee to the Managing Committee. She is also active as advisor to a few governmental agencies in Chennai, on mental health related issues.

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