The 3rd of December marks International Day of People with Disabilities. As this occasion falls within the 16 Days of Activism movement I felt it important to compose a piece in line with this theme on the systematic oppression, deprivation and violence that is bestowed on women with mental health impairments and psychosocial disabilities in India.
It is a little known fact that forced institutionalisation of women and involuntary treatment are rampant of women with intellectual disabilities and mental health impairments in India. I have been privy to endless amounts of stories of husbands wanting to get rid of troublesome wives and therefore having them forcibly institutionalised. Once a woman is in this position she is usually assessed as not having the mental capability to exercise autonomy over her own rights and therefore these are decided for her usually by her husband; thus trapping her within the system. Although this form of institutionalisation is illegal under Indian National Law it continues to occur frequently and without reproach.
A recent study published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented methodical sexual, physical and emotional abuses of women in state sanctioned mental health institutions. HRW within this study visited 24 mental health hospitals and state-funded residential care facilities and interviewed 200 women and girls with psychosocial or mental health disabilities, their families and caretakers, as well as mental health professionals, service providers, government officials and police in 6 cities. The results were disturbing to say the least.
The findings indicated widespread abuse in which residents were being subjected to daily beatings and sexual violations or assaults, as well as, deprivation and incursions on their dignity. Institutes were also overpopulated and most were actively depriving women of the basics for sanitation and personal hygiene as a tool to wield control through imparting mentalities of victimisation and shame.
According to one interviewee “without her consent or knowledge, she was forced to endure electricity passing through her brain in order to induce seizures, a process known as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)”. This example is basically the modern day equivalent to a conducting a lobotomy. Women then reported that they were forcibly fed medications and intimidated into undergoing treatments to keep them in state most have described as ‘vegetation’.
The study also found that after being dumped into these facilities, which are overcrowded and lacking basic facilities these women are ridiculed and stigmatised pushing them into a cycle of further psychosis. Horrifically, in some instances it was identified that women were being forcibly sterilised. An abhorrent example of the denial of a human being’s basic reproductive rights.
These findings present yet another example of the element of how intersectionality contributes to varied accounts of oppression and discrimination of women. As indicated by Human Rights Watch the experience of women and girls with mental health impairments represents a particularly nuanced form of marginalisation because of the compounding elements which intersect based on their gender and disability. Thus making them “especially vulnerable to unique forms of neglect and abuse”.
End. – Day 9.
*To access this report please click onto: https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/12/03/treated-worse-animals/abuses-against-women-and-girls-psychosocial-or-intellectual
*For a deeply personal but utterly moving account of the stigma associated with mental health impairments in India please refer to this incredible piece: http://www.anjalimentalhealth.org/reports/stories_of_illness.pdf