by Anum Amir

LAHORE - It was 2 am at night when I suddenly woke up. There was a harrowing sound coming from the street outside. At first, I thought it was an animal in pain. But then the sound turned into shrill whining that would send chills down the spine especially at that hour. Later on, it appeared to be a young boy who freely roams the streets of Bibi Pak Daman and Muhammad Nagar.

Locals call him “Sayeen”. His real name, no one knows for sure. “Nobody knows where he lives, and what his story is,” Ghazala Faraz told The Nation.

One thing was sure though, he lives off the street from the alms given by people.

The man's greasy hair fell over his wide, innocent eyes. His hands, once pale but now covered with dirt, reach up eagerly as you pass by. The bad odour floats up and hangs in your nose sourly. And his desperate voice rings out. Your heart almost misses a beat when he calls to you in his shrill little voice. It was a simple yet heartbreaking statement. “Rid of these chains, I am hungry. Get me some food,” he would say to the passersby.

Even if it is madness there is method in it. He is quiet and respectful during the day but at night he sometimes becomes uncontrollable and weeps and sulks for God knows what pain he has gone through.

Gul Khan, the area watchman, is also afraid to deal with him. It is regrettable that police never notice such people as many others like him are roaming the streets.

Illness demands to be treated, therefore, people go to the doctors in case of any physical ailment. Unfortunately, like any other disease, mental illness has no physical or visible symptoms. Often mental illness is neglected and stigmatised, leaving sufferer with no option but isolation.

At the tender age of seven, Shabbir Shareef never knew his fate. He was wrongly injected which became reason of his mental illness. A careless, inhumane act of a doctor took away the sparkle and life from the bright eyes of Shabbir turning him into mentally impaired individual and doomed him into the dark helpless life at mercy of vicious society.

Time flies but for Shabbir’s mother time it has stuck. “He is completely dependent on my assistance for every work. We put him in chains because in anger or when he gets the epilepsy attack he becomes dangerous,” said the mother with hopeless sigh.

“In the beginning, kids deliberately used to throw stones at him to annoy him as a result he used to react angrily. Some people thought he was possessed by an evil spirit. It was really hard to fight with Shabbir’s others siblings because they thought of him as burden but for mother all the children are alike and Shabbir has a special place in her heart as she blames her negligence for his son’s condition.

“Once Shabbir ran away, we kept looking for him. After days we found him at Data Darbar. A ‘peer’ at Darbar made Shabbir a money machine for themselves labelling him as “Allah Rakha”. Even today his brothers continue this business by allocating the corner place outside the house as his “astana”. People come and ask him for prayers and give him money as reward,” claimed the neighbours.

This heinous act shows the ignorance and also the superstitions prevailing in our society. Nobody ever thought of him getting medical treatment. He was taken to Pakistan Institution of Mental Health but the doctors discharged him claiming that he was mentally stable and would not harm anyone.

Shabbir’s mother is over 70 years old. Her eyes have a strange painful feeling in them. Perhaps she has seen too much suffering. She cannot even walk straight, and is sickly worried about Shabbir. “After my death, who is going to take care of my son?” she asked with tears in her eyes.

There are many like Shabbir and Sayeen, wandering in the streets, burning in self-agony, for no fault of their own. They all need medical treatment and create nuisance.

According to Dr Ali Hashmi, Associate professor Psychiatry KEMU, the private or government hospitals cannot accommodate the patients for long period of time due to lack of resources. “Irony is that the government has allocated roughly 2 percent of the total GDP for the health sector out of which only 1.3 percent is given to the mental hospitals,” Dr Hashmi said.

He told The Nation that police brings a lot of patients suffering from schizophrenia or any other mental illness. “We try to treat them but hospitals cannot provide them shelter because it is the utmost duty of the state to provide shelter to such homeless people.

“Fountain house is a place for the mentally ill people, established by NGO privately. It can accommodate only 300 people,” he added.

According to National Institution of Mental Health, the mental illness has become the third leading cause of suicides. And it is high time that we put mentally ill people on the priority.