Women with no illness dumped in mental asylums, says report

(From L to R), Human Rights Watch activists Shantha Rau Barriga, Meenakshi Ganguly, Bhargavi Davar from Bapu Trust for Research on Mind and Discourse, HRW’s Kriti Sharma, and Smriti Minocha from Human Rights Law Network, release a report titled "Treated Worse than Animals: Abuses against Women and Girls with Psychosocial or Intellectual Disabilities in Institutions in India," in New Delhi on Wednesday.  

It was fight with her husband and eldest child that landed 46-year old Deepali in a mental institution. Her medical history and the psychiatrist’s letter stating that she does not have bipolar disorder were not enough to keep her off medication and out of the institution.

There are scores of women like Deepti who are being forced into institutions and coerced into taking medication for mental disorders when they need none, shows a new report by the Human Rights Watch ‘Treated Worse than Animals’: Abuses against Women and Girls with Psychosocial or Intellectual Disabilities in Institutions in India.'

Life inside mental institutions

Documenting the stories of women and girls forced into mental hospitals and institutions, the report also talks of the life inside the institutions where they are made to live in unsanitary conditions, face the risk of physical and sexual violence and experience involuntary treatment, including electroshock therapy.

Illustrating how easy it is to institutionalise women without their consent, the report has testimonies from women who were tricked into institutions and even abandoned there. It also lists abuses and discrimination that women undergo in these institutions.

“In one such institute in Delhi, which had a capacity for 350, there were 900 women,” said Kriti Sharma, researcher at HRW.

Forced institutionalisation

Based on interactions with the women in institutions, care givers and medical practitioners, the report urges the government to take prompt steps to shift from forced institutional care to voluntary community-based services and support for people with disabilities. Forced institutionalisation is prohibited in India, but laws allow courts to appoint guardians to take decisions on behalf of people with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities, without the their free and informed consent.

“Women and girls with disabilities are dumped in institutions by their family members or police in part because the government is failing to provide appropriate support and services. And once they’re locked up, their lives are often rife with isolation, fear, and abuse, with no hope of escape,” said Ms. Sharma.

The report based on research conducted from December 2012 through November 2014 in New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru, and Mysore is based on more than 200 interviews with women and girls with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities, their families, caretakers, mental health professionals, service providers, government officials, and the police.

2011 census

While there are no clear official government records or estimates of the prevalence of psychosocial or intellectual disabilities in India, the 2011 census estimates that only 2.21 per cent of the Indian population has a disability – including 1.5 million people (0.1 per cent of the population) with intellectual disabilities and a mere 722,826 people (0.05 percent of the population) with psychosocial disabilities (such as schizophrenia or bipolar condition).

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Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 6:48:51 AM |

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