22 Jan The Exposure of Brutal Treatment in Indian Mental Centers
In the past year, Human Rights Watch released a report, “Treated Worse Than Animals”, regarding abuses against women and girls with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities in institutions in India. The shocking stories are grabbing the attention of the public, yet the hidden discrimination of the mental institutions is still surfacing. Unlike many other human rights violations, brutality towards the disabled is often unrecognized, but disabled women suffer some of the worst offenses. Casualties range from sexual abuse, non-consenting medical treatment, inadequate living conditions, and so on. Not only are the disabled treated without care, but healthy women are also forced into institutions without proof of an illness. On average, 1 in 3 women are admitted for no reason at all; often times a woman’s husband and/or family will enroll the woman into an institution for financial benefits and property ownership, rather than a genuine mental disability. Women are institutionalized through court orders with no opportunity to appeal, and can be kept for life if the family fails to bring her home. Indian police officials also institutionalize wandering women and girls who appear “dangerous” or seem unable to care for themselves, leaving the women with no opportunities to represent themselves and their human rights.
Not only is the institutionalizing process unjust, but the hospitals themselves have limited media coverage due to the brutal treatment of patients. Sometimes admitted women and girls are kept in the overpopulated and unhygienic centers for more than one month with no outside contact. There is a lack of proper resources, therefore they must brush their teeth with powdered toothpaste and a finger, and can wash themselves once a week but are given no towels. Patients also change their clothes every two days, but must remain naked as they wait for their clothes in the washer. The living conditions of the hospitals are dehumanizing as well as unsanitary.
The medicine that the women and girls receive is most often detrimental to their health. Patients are forcibly medicated and often times given electroconvulsive therapy without any knowledge or consent. Vidya, a survivor of a private mental hospital, reported to HRW, “I was like a vegetable. It was only years later that I found out I was being given ECT.” Patients also reported nurses injecting them through their clothes and stroking their throats to ensure the consumption of pills. In an unfortunate case in 2002, 25 mentally disabled people were burned to death in a hospital fire due to being forcibly strapped to their beds. The inhumane treatment of the disabled and misdiagnosed is prevalent in these centers, as well as apparent gender discrimination. It has been noted that men have the freedom to roam around the premises for fresh air, whereas women are described to be “herded like cattle”. Women also experience sexual abuse and the denial of access to menstrual and reproductive care, which men do not. Children are also deprived of opportunities for education, despite India’s Right to Education Act, which offers free education for all children between the ages of six and 14. Human Rights Watch jumpstarted the exposure of the brutal treatment in Indian mental centers in late 2014, and there is much more to learn.