Palestine issue

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is in India. Remember Yasser Arafat’s momentous visit in 1980?

Yasser Arafat and Indira Gandhi had a close political relationship.

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Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel in July, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas arrived in India on Sunday. During the meeting, Modi told Abbas that India hoped for a sovereign, independent, united Palestine and supported its cause.

While India is building a relationship with Israel, the country has had a long relationship with the founder and chief of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Yasser Arafat, who has made numerous visits. When he was still vilified as a terrorist, India allowed Arafat’s organisation to open an office in New Delhi.

Arafat was said to have had a close personal rapport with former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and called her his “sister”. According to an Al Jazeera report, “When Gandhi was assassinated a few months later by her bodyguards in New Delhi, a shocked Arafat wept in public.” Some months before her assassination, Gandhi had visited Arafat’s headquarters in Tunis.

The video above documents Arafat’s two-day visit to New Delhi shortly after full diplomatic recognition had been granted to the PLO. The Associated Press reported that Arafat was given a warm welcome, and “a large crowd of students, chanting pro-PLO slogans, had gathered outside the Palestinian office in New Delhi to cheer him on as he arrived for a press conference at the end of his visit.”

India has been one of the strongest supporters of the Palestinian cause outside the Arab world, with Mahatma Gandhi being one of the first to express kinship. “My sympathies are with the Jews...but my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice,” he wrote in 1938. “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French.”

However, India’s establishing full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992, and a more staunch pro-Israel stance in recent years has diluted that view somewhat.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), 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. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. 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.