QUEEN'S ROAD: Women patients in mental institutions are often subjected to physical and sexual violence and also to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) when they are fully conscious, says a recent report by Human Rights Watch, an NGO.
Some of the patients were forced into the institutions against their will, some times by husbands who wanted to get rid of their wives, it says. Indian laws allow mentally sick women to be confined in an institution without their consent.
In one government hospital, a psychiatric nurse said ECT is commonly used not only on violent and suicidal patients but also on new admissions who tend to be unmanageable. It is even used as a threat to coerce patients to take their medicines or to scare them if they do not listen to the staff, the report says.
The NGO has recorded cases of at least 20 women and 11 girls who were forced to take ECT without consent. Some were not even informed that ECT was being administered to them.
To prepare its report, Human Rights Watch visited 24 mental hospitals and state run residential care facilities in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Mysuru between December 2012 and November 2014. It interviewed over 200 women and girls with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities, their families, caretakers, mental health professionals, service providers, government officials and members of the police.
In nearly half the institutions, at least one or more member of the staff said that it was a waste of time to speak to women and girls with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities. "They are mad and will say anything," one staff member said.
When asked about the marital status of pregnant women in a mental hospital, a staff nurse said, "Nobody is going to marry someone with mental retardation; these are mostly abuse cases."
"We have patients from all over the country including Assam, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Manipur. The relatives simply dump them here, give a fake address and disappear for good," said a nurse in a mental hospital in Pune.
The NGO found that the women lived in filthy conditions. For example, Pune Mental Hospital, with its crumbling infrastructure and wastewater drainage system, has been unable to cope with its huge load of patients.
According to Dr Vilas Bhailume, the hospital’s superintendent, there are only 25 functional toilets for more than 1,850 patients. “Open defecation is the norm,” he said.