Women Face Appalling Abuse in India’s Mental Health Facilities

A new Human Rights Watch report highlights severe deficiencies in India’s treatment of the mentally ill. It focuses on women and girls who have been detained without their consent, abused physically and sexually while in the country’s mental health facilities. Some of the most abhorrant cases center around women who ‘disobey’ their families. Rather than having legitimate mental illnesses that would need proper care, these women were institutionalized by angry husbands and family members. One woman, Vidya, was taken from her home without explanation, sedated for a month, and given electroshock therapy all because her husband wanted to divorce her without paying alimony. Another woman, Deepali, dealt with a similar issue, where she was institutionalized after a fight with her family, despite the doctor’s testimony that she did not have a disorder. However, for women who truly do have mental disabilities and disorders such as schizophrenia, the situation only gets worse. Because of a lack of government funding to treatment centers, many buildings used to house these women are in complete disrepair. At one center, HRW found only 25 toilets for more than 1,000 women. A lack of soap, showers, and rampant infestations of rodents and lice were also described. In most countries, the sad truth is that those with developmental disabilities are often sexually assaulted at higher rates. Sexual predators often assume those with disabilities will not be taken seriously and see these victims as easy targets. In India it is no different. HRW discovered that sexual assault and physical assault existed in a number of these institutions. A welfare officer was quoted by HRW as saying, “Women have gone to [a hospital] for three months and have come back one month pregnant. It’s happened in a lot of cases but when the woman can’t say who got her pregnant, what can we do? We found out this because…the women undergo a check-up and mandatory urine pregnancy test [when they are re-admitted into the residential care facility].” Even more disturbing, although the UN asked all states to ban forced electroconvulsive therapy, HRW found that this was still being practiced in a number of institutions. Some staff members used ECT as a threat to patients who they saw as difficult to manage. For girls who refused to take their medications or broke the rules too often, they were told that ECT would be their punishment. The government does not keep official records of those with mental illness inside of India and its best estimates are considered to be extremely conservative. Because of this, HRW had difficulty tracking numbers and statistics on this case. However, it became clear after visiting 24 major hospitals across 4 Indian states, interviewing more than 250 girls, family members, staff, government officials and disability advocates, the situation is incredibly dire. Two bills, including the Rights of Persons With Disabilities Bill and the Mental Health Care bill are both inadequate in protecting patients from violations that HRW witnessed in these institutions. HRW has urged the government to add amendments to the bills which protect the legal capacity of people with mental disabilities, remove passages that could result in treatment without consent, and ban forced electroconvulsive therapy. Although the bill does have some very positive features, it is India’s first foray into mental health care policy. Some positives of the bill include decriminalizing suicide, allowing people to self-admit without magistrate approval and should help tackle cases of those forced into institutions against their will.

106 comments

Jerome S
Jerome S8 months ago

thanks

SEND
Jim Ven
Jim Ven8 months ago

thanks for sharing.

SEND
Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

SEND
Lucy S.
Past Member 2 years ago

India is one country that I could never visit. Women are harshly treated, raped and abused. Often the perpetrators are not brought to trial. It's a sick culture and that is sad.

SEND
Tanya Selth
Tanya Selth2 years ago

I dont understand how this could go on.. Why do these places even take those who doctors say are sane?

SEND
Alejandra Aboytes

I agree with Marion you just feel helpless when you are so far away

SEND
jan l.
jan l2 years ago

So very despicable that this "old world" system of maltreatment and assumed male supremacy over women persists. Even Ghandi would be ashamed at India's lack of progressive improvement of social acceptance of others, promoting education of women and mentoring women to grow. Women are the ones that nurture and educate the children. WHY oh WHY do men think they can run rough-shod over women, when women ONLY can bring the future citizens of India into the world. Why are men allowed to mistreat/abuse women... when that abuse spirals down into the mindset of the children? Absolutely ridiculous. India, you ought to be embarrassed. American companies have set up company branches in your country, to the sacrifice of jobs being available to US citizens. Many have lost their homes because of this injustice. Please take another fresh look at your laws, blue-laws and caste system. They are woefully out of date. Thank you

SEND
Lisbeth Jensen
Lisbeth Jensen2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

SEND
Peggy A.
Peggy A2 years ago

so wrong!

SEND
Peggy A.
Peggy A2 years ago

Horrible

SEND