HYDERABAD: Confusion prevails in the case of the Aramghar woman even after her transfer to the Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust on Tuesday. First, she was sent to meet a neuro-psychiatrist at Asha Hospital. “Medical check up is priority to determine her mental condition. The state in which she was discovered is shocking and questionable.
The doctor will be conducting all related tests on Wednesday and her treatment and medical aid will be take care of accordingly,” said Subhashini, panel advocate at the District Legal Services Authority, Ranga Reddy district.
However, V Padmavathi, state head of KGNMT, said that as per norms, the woman will be accompanied by a counsellor and a medical check up will be conducted at the Institute of Mental Hospital. But, Subhashini stated that a doctor at the private hospital had volunteered to help in diagnosing the victim’s condition and hence the DLSA had decided to seek it as a second opinion. The young woman, forgotten by the State for three years, will now face a surfeit of mental health assessments, while still not being presented before a magistrate.
Presence of a State Mental Health Authority, as mandated by law, may have helped matters. However, the Telangana State Mental Health Authority is yet to officially start functioning, according to Dr M Umashankar, superintendent, Institute of Mental Health. “After the state’s bifurcation in 2014, the Authority has been functioning informally as per requirement. I took charge last July and submitted a proposal. We are awaiting the government gazette for the same,” he said.
The young woman had been admitted into Aramghar after she was spotted loitering by Mailardevpally Police late in the night in 2014. Police claimed that she ‘seemed’ mentally unstable and as part of the “regular practice” she was sent to the centre. However, police officials to whom Express spoke also claim they believed that she did not have a mental health problem which is why did not follow the procedure as per the 1987 Act.
“In this particular case, at the time that she was spotted... her mental condition was not determined and hence she was only sent to the home,” said PV Padmaja, DCP, Shamshabad, adding that in other cases the police follows the procedure. She believes that once the woman was admitted to the home she became the home’s responsibility. However, why she needed to be admitted to a home, if she was not ill is unknown.
Activists are aghast. “The (1987) law states that the officer who identifies the person is responsible for putting them in a temporary home and then within the next 24 hours ensuring that he or she is produced before a magistrate who, with a medical officer, determines the person’s mental condition and accordingly prescribes care and treatment.
Now that this has not been done, the victim needs to be produced in front of a magistrate at least at this stage,” stressed Vaishnavi Jayakumar, mental health and disability rights activist. No individual can be left in any home or centre indefinitely, she pointed out.
“The minute we spot a person or identify someone who seems mentally unstable, we decide how they should be treated. We just believe that there is no need to respect them as individuals,” Amita Dhanda, head of Centre for Disability Studies at NALSAR, pointed out. People proceed to take decisions for the mentally unstable, with the idea that they are being noble and good, she said.
What the new law says
Under Mental Healthcare Act of 2017, if police officer has reason to believe a person in station limits has a mental illness and is being ill-treated or neglected, he must report it to local Magistrate. The Magistrate may order the person to be taken to a public mental health facility for assessment and treatment.
Magistrate could authorise admission of the person for not more than 10 days. In the case of a homeless person, police must file a missing person’s case and try trace the family before the person is sent for assessment.