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Are women with mental illness & the mentally challenged adequately protected in India?

The Indian Journal of Medical Research
Medknow Publications
Publication Date
  • Correspondence
  • Political Science
  • Psychology


Sir, Human society has a long history of treating people with mental illness and the mentally challenged as inferior. As a result, they have often been institutionalized, sterilized and prevented from their basic rights1. When India came under the British occupation, the lunatic asylums to segregate the mental patients came into effect. The first mental hospital was started in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1745, which was followed by Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 17872. The Lunacy Act was enacted in 1858 with a mandate to establish asylums. In 1946, the infamous ‘Bhore Committee’ investigated mental hospitals across India and found them as mere detention centers. The Lunacy Act of 1912 remained untouched till 1987 when it was refined as Mental Health Act3. Critiques argue that the shortage of trained staff and lack of rehabilitation shelters still continue to pelage India's mental health infrastructure depriving the disadvantaged from better prospects4–6. When it comes to health care, government policies, and rehabilitation projects in India, the mentally challenged women are often been marginalized. Besides, social stigma and poverty further aggravate their survival in the society. A recent report has confirmed the painful ordeal in Orissa where 25 per cent of the mentally challenged women were subjected to rape, while an additional 19 per cent faced other forms of sexual abuse7. Social and health workers argue that government should pay more attention in caring for the mentally challenged across India4–68. As a matter of fact, the Mental Health Act of 1987 does not include the mentally challenged since retardation is considered not a mental illness, therefore, treatment in mental hospital has been excluded. Nonetheless, the mentally challenged can get help in government-run rehabilitation centers and long-term residential care facilities. This issue has been addressed under the Persons with Disability Act of 19959. The implementation problem of the Mental Health Act came into light when the Supreme Court

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