Navaratnas of Professional Social Work in India : Women Social Workers Who Changed Millions of Lives -Shanthi Ranganathan
“Shanthi Ranganathan is a rare person and a social worker par excellence. She transcended the intense personal tragedy due to the irreparable loss of her husband at a young age and created a world class institution which has been transforming the lives of thousands of individuals and families. Her grit and determination have only a few parallels. For me, it has been a privilege to associate myself with her during her student days at the Madras School of Social work four decades ago and subsequently during the early years of the T T Ranganathan Clinical Research Foundation (TTRCRF)”.
Dr. T.K. Nair
Professor of Social Work and Former Principal,
Madras School of Social Work.
Married to T.T.Ranganathan, grandson of the former Union Finance Minister and industrialist late T.T. Krishnamachari (popularly known as TTK), Shanthi enrolled for the postgraduate Diploma at the Madras School of Social Work in 1972 to “learn the methods and techniques of social work, in order to start a voluntary blood bank”.
In 1975 she founded the Madras Voluntary Blood Bank and initiated the voluntary blood donation movement in southern India. More than 25,000 motivated blood donors are on the rolls of the Blood Bank. Soon young Shanthi’s world was shattered when in 1979 her husband T.T. Ranganathan was snatched away by death at a hospital in the U.S; he was a victim of alcoholism. Shanthi recalls: “At that time we were not able to get any help for him because there were no centres in India for treating alcoholics. Doctors at that time were not aware that alcoholism was a disease. After my husband’s death, there was a burning desire in me to do something to help other patients of alcoholism and their families”.
Shanthi was barely thirty when she lost her husband. But her father-in-law T.T.Narasimhan and mother-in-law Padma were a source of great support to Shanthi. They encouraged her to bury the past and to pursue her dreams. As a first step in this direction, she went to the U.S and got herself trained in the treatment of alcoholism at the Hazeldon Institute at Minneapolis. On her return, she founded the T.T.Ranganathan Clinical Research Foundation (TTRCRF) in 1980, and the Narasimhans turned over their sea shore house to their daughter-in-law to enable her to start a day care centre for the treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction.
The TTK group contributed INR 11 million and in 1987 a 70- bed residential addiction treatment centre, TTK Hospital, was established. It is the first hospital of its kind in India. This was followed by a 20-bed after care centre to provide extended care to drug dependants. In 2007, a relapse ward was established to accommodate 20 clients and their family members.
Main Activities of TTK Hospital (TTRCRF)
• Primary treatment programme: 25,000 clients have undergone the one month in-patient treatment programme which includes detoxification, deterrent drug therapy, lectures, group activities, individual counselling, group therapy, relaxation therapy and introduction to self-help groups. Family members also participate in the two-week family therapy programme.
• After care programme: 2,300 clients have been provided intensive therapy for three months’ duration on an in-patient basis using the same therapy elements as in the primary care programme.
• Community-based treatment camps: Has developed a community model to provide treatment. Fifteen-day treatment camps are being conducted making treatment accessible to the rural poor by mobilizing the community’s support. This cost effective treatment model is now being considered as a model therapeutic intervention.
• Vocational training centre: Computer education is offered free of cost to help clients and their families develop marketable vocational skills.
• Awareness and prevention programmes: Workplace substance use prevention programmes have been conducted from as early as 1984 and continues to be an integral part of the Foundation. Undertook a major project of sensitizing 40,000 self-help group women and 4,000 marginalized youth on issues related to alcohol / drugs, tobacco and HIV-AIDS in four regions under the sponsorship of UNESCO.
• Training programmes: Paraprofessionals and professional groups like community workers, nurses, psychologists, social workers and doctors have been targeted to motivate them to undertake prevention programmes as well as to identify addiction and intervene at an early stage. The Foundation has been conducting training progammes of one week to three-months duration for other NGO staff from 1984.
• Publications: Numerous pamphlets, books and posters have been developed for addicts and their families as well as for service providers in the field. Four manuals were published for professionals and three other manuals were prepared on behalf of UNDCP. Audio visual materials with video clippings for training and CD presentations have been developed and distributed to many NGOs.
• The Foundation is known for its networking activities that help NGOs work together towards a common cause.
Regional Resource and Training Centre
TTK Hospital has been designated as the Regional Resource and Training Centre for South India by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. The Colombo Plan has chosen the TTK Hospital as Education Providers for Certification Programme for Asian Countries.
Education and skill Development
Dr. Shanthi Ranganathan has been managing the Swami Dayananda Higher Secondary school at Manjakudi village near Kumbakonam for the past twenty years. The school has 1800 boys and girls, and it receives aid from the Tamil Nadu government. For children who are not able to complete their education and drop out of the regular school system, she started the Padma Narasimhan Industrial Training Institute in 2004.
Dr.Shanthi Ranganathan received numerous awards and the prominent awards are the following.
Restoring My Sanity
It was a hot summer day. Around 11 in the morning, I had three pegs of Brandy and drove my brand new scooter, humming a film song. A motor bike had overtaken mine with a “Wisssss......” I got annoyed. Even though the bike rider was a stranger, I felt I had lost the race. I throttled my accelerator to overtake him. A voice from inside warned me: “You are drunk; don’t over speed”. I ignored this alert and listened to the drunken mind which was strong enough to encourage me to defeat him and satisfy my ego. I drove my scooter very fast and could not control my vehicle which dashed against a huge military truck. It was a warning sign to stop my drinking. Even after this incident I continued drinking, because I had convinced myself that it was due to the mistake the bike rider and the military truck driver had committed and not mine.
I indulged myself in malpractice and took a huge amount from a company where I had been working during my 20s and due to that I would have been jailed at least a few months. My dad helped me to come out of that crisis by paying the amount. That particular day I wrote in my dairy, ‘This is a turning point in my life’. But it was not a turning point as I continued with my drinking after a short break. My drinking worsened and like a huge cyclone, it had almost completely ruined my life. Every morning I used to wake up with a severe hangover and shaking fingers and I would be worried about what had happened the previous night.
A Tamil proverb I always remember, “Do not forget the people who lifted you up”. Lifting me out of my uncontrolled drinking happened when I was 25 years old and luckily not married. I got admitted in Dr. Shanthi Ranganathan’s TT Ranganathan Clinical Research Foundation for addiction treatment. I started attending the inpatient programme at the treatment centre for one month and initially regained my physical well being like improved appetite, and weight gain through medical treatment. During the psychological therapy I understood that addiction is a disease, the damage caused and the need to improve my life functioning. The centre made me understand that total abstinence from alcohol is the only way to solve this problem. My question to them was ‘Can I drink just a little once in a way?’. Their answer was a definite No and explained that if I start drinking again my condition will become worse than earlier.
During treatment I could come to a routine since the centre had a time table with time and activities listed for a day. For example, morning wake up, physical fitness, breakfast, classes, lunch, group therapy, recreation, AA meetings in the evenings and dinner. During the counselling sessions my counsellor listened to my remorse, grief, pain and she helped me to realize and come out of my denial, guilt, unrealistic thinking, anger and many more. After treatment also. they insisted on my coming for counselling and attending AA meetings.
When I was out of the treatment centre, I felt like a new man with good energy. At the same time. I also had some unanswered questions in my mind. “How am I going to get a Job?. How to start my new life?. How do I get back my self-respect and dignity?”
Let me share my present life now. Do you believe that I am blessed with answers for all my questions by the Higher Power whom I trusted. Of course, now I am a respectable man in society having a worthy job, a family with two kids. I do not feel the need to search for a drink to overcome my hangover. I wake up with a clear vision in the morning without a sense of shame or fear or sorrow.
The important aspect I would like to share here is when I was drinking I was actually hating myself. But now I enjoy the happiness inside myself. With 20 years of sobriety I love myself and also the people around me. Now I believe that God has created me for a reason and that I should be helpful to myself and to all others around me. The merciful God has helped me restore my Sanity.
Husband’s Recovery and My Growth
I was born in a rich family and my father Dato Dawood was a business man. He was a politically active individual in Malaysia. I was brought up by my mother with all the restrictions enforced by my Muslim religion. I discontinued my studies in 8th standard and got married to Ibrahim as per my family tradition. I never knew what difficulties or sufferings mean since I had never been exposed to these while growing up.
My husband was also from a traditional Muslim family. He was a generous person and took care of his family responsibilities after his father’s death. He did business, which flourished for a while and later he got into huge debts. This drove him to alcohol. I was always worried about how to make him give up alcohol and also about how I am going to pay back all debts. During that time I read a story written by Sivasankari in Ananda Vikatan and came to know about TTK Hospital, a Chennai – based treatment centre for alcohol and drug dependants.
I took him to TTK Hospital for treatment which was for 21 days. While he was in treatment, I attended the family therapy programme and learnt that alcoholism is a disease, not a character defect or a moral weakness. This made me value my husband’s good heart and generosity. In making efforts to change his behaviour, I supported him in his recovery wholeheartedly. After attending the family therapy I was also empowered to take care of my life. I started relying a lot on the higher power and also shared by problems with my trusted family members and counsellors at the centre to get relief.
I understood that I have to become economically independent. With my family support, I started a travel agency. Meanwhile I understood the importance of education. I pursued B.A psychology through open university and completed it. During that time, a relative of mine committed suicide due to depression. This made me join post graduation in social work in medical and psychiatric specialization at Stella Maris College. The college got me permission to write the examination in Tamil. I also completed Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). I started helping fellow Muslim women when they faced addiction or psychiatric problems in their spouses. I was made a member of Shariat Council to provide counselling. I am also running a family counselling centre with two counsellors. With a support of my friend I also manage a vocational training centre for Muslim girls and women at Pallavaram. I share my life experience once a month at TTK Hospital with family members of patients who are attending family therapy programme. My sharing is greatly appreciated and benefitted by the family members. In recognition of my service, I have been given woman achiever award by Muslim League Party and Samudhaya Sudar by Islamic Literary Organization. My life is governed by the serenity prayer of AA and the principle of living one day at a time.
M.H. Ramesha – Dr. Shanthi Ranganathan
When and how did you get interested in social work?
At the time of Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, there was an appeal in The Hindu, asking for clothes, vessels and household items for Bangladeshis. I don’t know what made me go from one house to another to collect clothes. After collecting them, they were washed and packed and sent to Calcutta for distribution. That was my first initiative on my own to respond to human sufferings.
What was the reason for opting for the social work course? Was the course upto your expectations?
My mother-in-law felt I have the ability and inclination to do social work. She encouraged me to join Madras School of Social Work. My exposure to social work professional course gave me a lot of confidence and also skills to pursue social work in a methodical manner. Starting a voluntary blood bank was also one of the reasons for joining social work course.
What was the reason for initiating the voluntary blood bank?
An aunt of mine developed jaundice after getting blood from a professional donor. My mother-in-law educated me on the benefits of voluntary blood donation.
You have sublimated an irreparable personal loss into a great health movement to give a new life to numerous substance addicted persons and their families. Looking back how would you assess your work SUBJECTIVELY ?
More than my contribution to patients and their families, my life has acquired a lot of meaning and purpose. Every night when I go to bed, there is no emptiness, only peace and fulfillment .
My greatest contribution is providing hope to family members by initiating a family based therapy. In family therapy, the focus is helping the family to get empowered and take charge of their lives and their children.
Our team has developed a community treatment model which can be implemented at low cost with the involvement of the community to provide treatment to alcoholics at their door steps
NGOs were not providing treatment based on evidence based practices. Many were offering treatment methodologies which were not scientifically proven. Hence the minimum standards of care were developed for the entire country. The government of India has adopted the minimum standards of care as a legal document to provide grant to NGOs.
What are the reasons for the increasing rates of alcoholism and drug use in the country?
Some of the reasons are
- Easy availability of alcohol
- Acceptance of drinking as a social norm
- Increased disposable income in the hands of youngsters
- Less supervision and discipline in educational institutions and families
- Early initiation to drinking
What are your suggestions to the governments (both in the states and at the centre) to minimise alcoholism and drug addiction, and to rehabilitate the victims and their families?
WHO has recommended many measures to reduce harm related to alcohol use and abuse. Prohibition is not the answer.
Control of access and availability
- Implementing minimum standards of care in all rehabilitation centres
“I have the unique honour of being the classmate of Shanthi Ranganathan. Like most of my other classmates, I used to keep a distance from her as she was the grand daughter-in-law of TTK. Slowly we got over our mental block as she was very affable. To our surprise, she was very active in the rural camp and interacted freely with all of us. Her simplicity and down to earth attitude in working with the villagers indeed “bewildered us”. After some years, I had the opportunity to associate myself with Shanthi in the blood donation campaign among the employees of Titan company where I was responsible for HR. The national and global recognition she got did not alter Shanthi. Her humility is remarkable and worth emulating. Her simplicity, willingness to live in villages and interface with alcoholics are her rare qualities. Many owe their life changing movements to her concern for them. She could have chosen to earn millions, but she chose to impact the lives of millions”.
Chief Architect, Centre for Excellence in Organisation
CEO, Skills Academy
Alcoholism is a dreadful disease. But it has cure, which requires time, patience, understanding and co-operation from the close associates of the victim, particularly the family.
Dr. Shanthi Ranganathan
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