Kedar Ranjan Banerjee
This profile was prepared when Kedar Ranjan Banerjee was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1991.
The New Idea
Kedar is evolving a series of awareness programs that promote community and family participation in organizing mental health services, especially in non-elite neighborhoods. They encourage people to move from embarrassed and fearful reactions that isolate the ill, be they still living in the area or relegated to an asylum, to integrating them in daily life and helping with care and rehabilitation. His work is overwhelmingly focused on the rapidly growing drug epidemic, a plague for which society now has almost no organized response. Kedar believes this epidemic provides an excellent entry point to develop and build understanding for his non-custodial, involving approaches, which he would ultimately like to see applied more broadly in the mental health field.The basics of his idea took shape when he was exposed to psychiatric patients for the first time and was struck by the rejection they had to contend with. An incidental meeting with a few drug addicts during a mountaineering course threw up some more practical problems that they had to face while interacting with society and planted the idea of using outdoor sports activitieswhich were clearly useful in these casesas a therapeutic mechanism. As the problems and possible answers began to emerge, so did a clear-cut target group: a door-to-door detection campaign conducted by NIBS (the National Institute of Behavioral Sciences, of which Kedar is a founder) in the slums of North Calcutta revealed that most of the addicts were "young adults"16 to 35 years old. Furthermore, although lack of funds and family support stood in the way of a drying-out treatment that would allow sustained rehabilitation, many of these young people desperately wanted help.Having found its initial target population and community, and having developed a very low cost approach extending from community work through a simple exerciseintensive detoxification continuing on to community-supported reintegrationKedar began a series of tests. NIBS launched its first outdoor detoxification camp with 16 patients in November 1987. It has held 12 more camps since then, mostly in farmhouses located on the outskirts of the city. Discipline, repeated strenuous physical activity, fast-paced work designed in part to give these young people immediately usable job skills, and periodic meditation and group discussions compose the camps' main activities. The camps, which now have long waiting lists of applicants, are followed by six months of counseling. These early camps have achieved a 25 percent success rate.