Cityscapes

The endangered trees of Mumbai’s Aarey Colony are speaking up against deforestation

Cyrus Daruwala’s ‘Trees of Aarey’ comic protests the Metro III project that would cause the felling of thousands of trees.

The city of Mumbai is losing whatever little green cover it has left. The third phase of its Metro project, from Colaba in the south to the special economic zone of Seepz in the west, will lead to the felling of a reported 5,012 trees. Around 2,000 of these will be lopped in just Aarey Colony, which is one of Mumbai’s remaining green lungs, to make room for a car shed and a workshop.

This is not all. About 1.5 km of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, a protected area in the north, could be deforested to widen a stretch of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad National Highway 8. To the east of the massive national park, Thane Creek could lose its mangroves to real estate, if the municipal corporation goes ahead with the plan to include the patch as “landed mass” in the new development plan.

All these proposals have been met with strident criticism, but the project in Aarey Colony in particular has kindled anger among citizen groups and even political parties. Officials from the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation have attempted to pacify these groups by promising that a similar number of trees will be planted in other areas of the city (although replenishing the lost green cover could take years). For now, the Mumbai High Court has stayed the felling of Aarey trees.

In this hullabaloo, a comic series is trying to inject the only voice that matters: of Aarey Colony’s trees.

The Trees of Aarey follows a four-panel format. In each comic, trees named Shanti, Bodhi or Clump, talk directly to the reader, pointing out the hypocritical way in which Mumbaikars treat the city.

“So I have heard, that I’m to make way for a faster mode of transport,” a tree named Woodie says in a comic. “Humans sure are in a hurry...to destroy their last defence against air pollution.”

“We are so casual in our handling of nature and natural resources,” said Cyrus Daruwala, the cartoonist behind the project. “I tried to imagine what a tree would say if it could speak to us.”

The 33-year-old creative director at an advertising firm has been following the developments in the Metro III project since its announcement in 2013. Realising that it would lead to loss of trees, Daruwala, who grew up in Andheri, turned to his memories of spending quiet moments in Aarey Colony.

“The project began out of disbelief and sadness, that these memories of mine will literally be eroded forever, for a metro car shed,” Daruwala said. “I felt helpless, and so I turned to what I do best, the power of communication.”

About the device of having the trees directly address the reader, the cartoonist said, “We are used to this passive image of a tree, and Trees of Aarey humanises them in a way.”

The ideas come to Daruwala while he is travelling in Mumbai’s local trains. His earlier comics – I Take This Train Too and Painful People – also take inspiration from the city. Even though Daruwala and many citizens like him are protesting the government’s move, the plans to build the Metro III seem to remains on track for a 2021 inauguration. Even so, Daruwala has not lost hope.

“Obviously the objective is to prevent the trees from being uprooted,” he said. “But it would be naive of me to presume that my comic series can achieve that. Rather I hope to spark conversations, among the common citizens and also hopefully, the people in positions of power. Why should we feel powerless in guiding public policy, in a democracy? I’m sure that if enough people voice their concerns, our government will take note.”

All images courtesy Cyrus Daruwala.

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Removing the layers of complexity that weigh down mental health in rural India

Patients in rural areas of the country face several obstacles to get to treatment.

Two individuals, with sombre faces, are immersed in conversation in a sunlit classroom. This image is the theme across WHO’s 2017 campaign ‘Depression: let’s talk’ that aims to encourage people suffering from depression or anxiety to seek help and get assistance. The fact that depression is the theme of World Health Day 2017 indicates the growing global awareness of mental health. This intensification of the discourse on mental health unfortunately coincides with the global rise in mental illness. According to the latest estimates from WHO, more than 300 million people across the globe are suffering from depression, an increase of 18% between 2005 and 2015.

In India, the National Mental Health Survey of India, 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) revealed the prevalence of mental disorders in 13.7% of the surveyed population. The survey also highlighted that common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. Perhaps the most crucial finding from this survey is the disclosure of a huge treatment gap that remains very high in our country and even worse in rural areas.

According to the National Mental Health Programme, basic psychiatric care is mandated to be provided in every primary health centre – the state run rural healthcare clinics that are the most basic units of India’s public health system. The government provides basic training for all primary health centre doctors, and pays for psychiatric medication to be stocked and available to patients. Despite this mandate, the implementation of mental health services in rural parts of the country continues to be riddled with difficulties:

Attitudinal barriers

In some rural parts of the country, a heavy social stigma exists against mental illness – this has been documented in many studies including the NIMHANS study mentioned earlier. Mental illness is considered to be the “possession of an evil spirit in an individual”. To rid the individual of this evil spirit, patients or family members rely on traditional healers or religious practitioners. Lack of awareness on mental disorders has led to further strengthening of this stigma. Most families refuse to acknowledge the presence of a mental disorder to save themselves from the discrimination in the community.

Lack of healthcare services

The average national deficit of trained psychiatrists in India is estimated to be 77% (0.2 psychiatrists per 1,00,000 population) – this shows the scale of the problem across rural and urban India. The absence of mental healthcare infrastructure compounds the public health problem as many individuals living with mental disorders remain untreated.

Economic burden

The scarcity of healthcare services also means that poor families have to travel great distances to get good mental healthcare. They are often unable to afford the cost of transportation to medical centres that provide treatment.

After focussed efforts towards awareness building on mental health in India, The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF), founded by Deepika Padukone, is steering its cause towards understanding mental health of rural India. TLLLF has joined forces with The Association of People with Disability (APD), a non-governmental organisation working in the field of disability for the last 57 years to work towards ensuring quality treatment for the rural population living with mental disorders.

APD’s intervention strategy starts with surveys to identify individuals suffering from mental illnesses. The identified individuals and families are then directed to the local Primary Healthcare Centres. In the background, APD capacity building programs work simultaneously to create awareness about mental illnesses amongst community workers (ASHA workers, Village Rehabilitation Workers and General Physicians) in the area. The whole complex process involves creating the social acceptance of mental health conditions and motivating them to approach healthcare specialists.

Participants of the program.
Participants of the program.

When mental health patients are finally free of social barriers and seeking help, APD also mobilises its network to make treatments accessible and affordable. The organisation coordinates psychiatrists’ visits to camps and local healthcare centres and ensures that the necessary medicines are well stocked and free medicines are available to the patients.

We spent a lot of money for treatment and travel. We visited Shivamogha Manasa and Dharwad Hospital for getting treatment. We were not able to continue the treatment for long as we are poor. We suffered economic burden because of the long- distance travel required for the treatment. Now we are getting quality psychiatric service near our village. We are getting free medication in taluk and Primary Healthcare Centres resulting in less economic stress.

— A parent's experience at an APD treatment camp.

In the two years TLLLF has partnered with APD, 892 and individuals with mental health concerns have been treated in the districts of Kolar, Davangere, Chikkaballapur and Bijapur in Karnataka. Over 4620 students participated in awareness building sessions. TLLLF and APD have also secured the participation of 810 community health workers including ASHA workers in the mental health awareness projects - a crucial victory as these workers play an important role in spreading awareness about health. Post treatment, 155 patients have resumed their previous occupations.

To mark World Mental Health Day, 2017, a team from TLLLF lead by Deepika Padukone visited program participants in the Davengere district.

Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.
Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.

In the face of a mental health crisis, it is essential to overcome the treatment gap present across the country, rural and urban. While awareness campaigns attempt to destigmatise mental disorders, policymakers need to make treatment accessible and cost effective. Until then, organisations like TLLLF and APD are doing what they can to create an environment that acknowledges and supports people who live with mental disorders. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.