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Asylum survey

The government has for the first time initiated a survey to determine the condition of women in mental health institutions across the country.

By Our Special Correspondent
  • Published 18.03.15
  •  

New Delhi, March 17: The government has for the first time initiated a survey to determine the condition of women in mental health institutions across the country.

"A lot of women are put in there (in asylums) because they are widows, have property and the rest of their family conspires to remove them (from their homes)," women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi told the Rajya Sabha today.

The minister, who was responding to a query raised by a JDU MP, said she had commissioned the survey, by the National Commission for Women (NCW), two months ago. "For the first time since Independence will such a survey be done by the government," she added.

Mental health does not come under the purview of the WCD ministry. It is handled by the ministry of social justice and empowerment. But sources in the WCD ministry said Maneka had listed such a survey as a priority soon after she took over.

"She personally knows quite a few cases where normal women had been forcibly sent to asylums because there was a property dispute. In many cases, the asylum itself becomes a partner to the crime. This survey would closely monitor the institutions, which in itself would work as a deterrent," a ministry official said.

According to a December 2014 report by the Human Rights Watch, many women have been forced into institutions and coerced into taking medication for mental disorders when they needed none.

The 106-page report, Treated Worse than Animals: Abuses against Women and Girls with Psychosocial or Intellectual Disabilities in Institutions in India, was based on research conducted on such women between December 2012 and November 2014 in Delhi, Calcutta, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore and Mysore.

The study - which involved more than 200 interviews with women and girls with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities, their families, caretakers, mental health professionals, service providers, government officials and police - documents involuntary admission and arbitrary detention in mental hospitals and residential care institutions.

There are no clear official estimates on the prevalence of psychosocial or intellectual disabilities in India. But the 2011 census estimates that around 1.5 million people - 0.1 per cent of the population - suffer from intellectual disabilities, while a mere 7.2 lakh have psychosocial disabilities such as schizophrenia or bipolar condition.

NCW member Shamina Shafiq said the survey would explore the "entire gamut of life" in a mental care institution, including physical well-being, hygiene and emotional care.