The tragedy shook the conscience of the nation and caught the attention of human rights activists all over the world and also resulted in structural changes in mental healthcare in India.

The eleventh anniversary of the Erwadi fire tragedy in which 28 mentally-ill persons tied to chains were charred to death was observed here on Monday. The tragedy shook the conscience of the nation and caught the attention of human rights activists all over the world and also resulted in structural changes in mental healthcare in India.

On August 6, 2001, 28 chained inmates of a home for mental ill died as they were unable to escape the fire that engulfed the thatched shed in Erwadi of Ramanathapuram district. The M.S. Chellamuthu Trust and Research Foundation, which works among the mentally challenged, used to observe the anniversary.

The anniversary is not observed to evoke any sympathy but to remember and rededicate ourselves to the cause of the mentally ill and it was this incident which brought to light the plight of the mentally ill, said K. S. P. Janardhan Babu, Assistant Director, M.S Chellamuthu Trust and Research Foundation.

Volunteers of the Foundation, mentally challenged children, their parents and general public lit candles in remembrance of the dead and paid homage with a silent prayer. A pledge was also administered to treat the mentally-ill on par with others and provide them access to basic rights. One of the inmates who escaped the fire accident and now works in one of the bakery units of the foundation was introduced.

R. Rajakumari, Executive Director, said that the Erwadi tragedy, which caught the attention of even the international media, forced the State Government to act. Certain sections of the Mental Health Act, 1987, were implemented only after this tragedy occurred.

More In: Madurai