India’s disabled women at risk in mental institutions

Those suffering from mental disabilities are especially vulnerable in India where there is little education about such illnesses and people who suffer from them are often either shunned or mocked.

NEW DELHI // Women and girls with disabilities in India are pushed into mental institutions, where they live in unsanitary conditions and are at constant risk of physical and sexual violence, said Human Rights Watch.

A report by the group details the lives of women and girls with disabilities in six cities across India between December 2012 through November 2014.

It involved more than 200 interviews with women and girls with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities as well as their families, caretakers, mental health professionals, and government and police officials.

While India’s public health system is in a state of disrepair, those suffering from mental disabilities are especially vulnerable in country where there is little education about such illnesses and people who suffer from them are often either shunned or mocked.

Mental hospitals are still commonly called “mad houses” and in the absence of community support, families often cover up illnesses like depression and bipolar disorder instead of seeking help. Both men and women suffer from a lack of care and neglect, but women are much more vulnerable to abuse in India’s misogynistic society.

“Women and girls with disabilities are dumped in institutions by their family members or police in part because the government is failing to provide appropriate support and services,” said Kriti Sharma, from the Human Rights Watch.

“And once they’re locked up, their lives are often rife with isolation, fear and abuse, with no hope of escape.”

The report called Treated Worse than Animals: Abuses against Women and Girls with Psychosocial or Intellectual Disabilities in Institutions in India, documents involuntary admission and arbitrary detention in mental hospitals and residential care institutions across India.

It also studies the abysmal conditions – the overcrowding and lack of hygiene and inadequate general health facilities – as well as the forced treatment and the abuses the women and girls suffer.

Official estimates on disability in India are vague. The most recent 2011 census estimates that only a little over 2 per cent of the country’s 1.2 billion population has a disability – including 1.5 million people with intellectual disabilities and a mere 722,826 people with psychosocial disabilities such as schizophrenia or bipolar condition.

These figures are strikingly lower than international estimates by the United Nations and World Health Organisation which estimate that 15 per cent of the world’s population lives with a disability.

Less than 1 per cent of India’s federal budget is allocated to mental health.

* Associated Press

Published: December 3, 2014 04:00 AM

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