After controversial remark on mental illness, Maneka Gandhi clarifies

Maneka Gandhi was quoted as saying "If a person is mentally ill like schizophrenic, how can he be given a job?” Photo: Kiran Bakale   | Photo Credit: KIRAN BAKALE - Kiran Bakale

Union Minister Maneka Gandhi’s recent statement doubting the ability of schizophrenia patients to hold jobs has attracted immense criticism online and elsewhere. In response to one such email from Chennai-based NGO SCARF, the Union Minister for Women and Child Development has written saying that what she suggested at a closed-door meeting of the Group of Ministries revising the Disability Bill was that, instead of a gross mix-up of physically disabled, mentally ill, mentally challenged and diseased being lumped under the same category for the three-per-cent reservation, the list should be refined so that everyone knows the category in which they can get pensions/jobs.

The Hindu has accessed a copy of this email response from the Minister. She further explains in her response, “For instance, there is no point putting leprosy with autism. Leprosy is a disease and autism at its extreme level is a disablement. If we put leprosy in the list carelessly then we leave the door open to cancer, liver/kidney failure, etc. and make the 3 per cent reservation a mockery. Regarding mental illness, I asked them to grade the different forms and see which can be employable and which needs a pension. The Ministry for Social Justice agreed to refine and reconsider the points I made.”

Chennai-based NGO SCARF had challenged the Minister’s reported statement that schizophrenia patients cannot hold jobs. Ms. Gandhi was quoted in a PTI report earlier this week as saying, “It (bill) does not differentiate between mentally ill and mentally disabled person. But there is a difference between the two. If a person is mentally ill like schizophrenic, how can he be given a job?”

Dr. R. Thara, Director of Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF) in Chennai wrote to the Minister: “Having worked with persons with schizophrenia for 35 years now, I can assure you that they are very capable of working and holding responsible jobs. In fact there are so many who are employed in many Government sectors like RBI, AGs office, banks, etc and working well.” The doctor further notes in the letter that it would be a retrograde step if mental illness were again removed from the disability welfare net.

In a research paper published in Schizophrenia Research in 1997, the authors Dr. Thara and T.R. Srinivasan found that occupational activity, an indicator of the functional status of an individual, is a major component in the long-term management of schizophrenia. During the course of research, the work functioning of 40 first-episode male schizophrenic patients was assessed every year over a period of 10 years. The comprehensive evaluation of occupational outcome measured in terms of duration of employment, quality of work done, and level of earned income was good in 53 per cent of the patients, comparable to figures from developed countries.

 “There are 30-40 per cent people suffering from schizophrenia whose conditions don’t improve. Such people cannot hold jobs. But 50 per cent of the remaining persons are able to hold jobs,” Dr. Thara said.

The Union Minister’s statement generated a lot of anger online, with a >tumblr website coming up, where persons supporting employment of mentally ill persons pose with placards and vouch for the abilities of these people.

According to the present law on disability, three per cent reservation for disabled people is mandatory in all categories of government jobs. The matter was raised in the meeting of Group of Ministers (GoM) which held its first meeting on January 25 to examine the Right of Persons with Disabilities Bill 2014.

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Printable version | Sep 22, 2021 1:09:29 AM |

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