Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Intellectually disabled women in India ‘treated worse than animals’

The report by a human rights group said that intellectually disabled women in India are routinely locked up in institutions where they suffer sexual or other abuse.

Women are often dumped in overcrowded, state-run institutions lacking basic facilities, where mentally ill and disabled people are “ridiculed, feared and stigmatised”, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report said on Wednesday.

“Once they’re locked up, their lives are often rife with isolation, fear and abuse, with no hope of escape,” said Kriti Sharma, the report’s author.

“Women and girls with disabilities face unique challenges – including sexual violence and denial of access to reproductive health – that men do not.”

Called “Treated Worse than Animals”, the report is based on interviews with 52 women and girls who were or had been in institutions, along with those of 150 doctors and family members.

“The house aunty (staff member) who drops me to school hits me. She hits me here (in the institution) too. She slaps me hard with her hand,” an 11-year-old said in the report.

“When she hits me, I feel like crying and I feel sad. I feel like crying in school too. I want to leave this place.”

Treatment is ‘unbearable’
Government census figures show some 1.5-million of India’s population suffers from intellectual disabilities such as genetic Down’s syndrome, while another 722 826 suffer from mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder.

But experts say those figures are strikingly low for the world’s second most populous country, where many health issues go undiagnosed.

Vilas Bhailume, superintendent of a mental hospital in western Pune, said overcrowding was a major problem. “We only have 100 toilets for more than 1 850 patients, out of which only 25 are functional. The others keep getting blocked. Open defecation is the norm,” he said in the report.

Women with a range of disabilities and illnesses, such as schizophrenia, are often admitted against their will by their families or legal guardians, despite the fact that forced institutionalisation is illegal in India.

“Relatives just dump patients at the hospital and think that’s it. They put fake addresses and phone numbers on the registration forms so we cannot contact them again,” a nurse at the Pune hospital said.

India’s government launched a national mental health programme in 1982 to provide community-based services, but HRW says it is largely ineffective and lacks oversight.

Sharma said many of the women she interviewed were desperate to leave, describing their treatment as unbearable. “Long-term warehousing of women and girls with disabilities is simply not the answer,” she said. – AFP

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

R270m ‘housing heist’ bid deprives people of decent homes

After alleged attempts to loot Eastern Cape housing funds, 39 200 people in the province will continue to live in atrocious conditions

Cabinet reshuffle not on cards yet

There are calls for the president to act against ministers said to be responsible for the state’s slow response to the unrest, but his hands are tied

More top stories

R270m ‘housing heist’ bid deprives people of decent homes

After alleged attempts to loot Eastern Cape housing funds, 39 200 people in the province will continue to live in atrocious conditions

Stolen ammo poses security threat amid failure to protect high-risk...

A Durban depot container with 1.5-million rounds of ammunition may have been targeted, as others in the vicinity were left untouched, say security sources

Sierra Leoneans want a share of mining profits, or they...

The arrival of a Chinese gold mining company in Kono, a diamond-rich district in the east of Sierra Leone, had a devastating impact on the local community, cutting its water supply and threatening farmers’ livelihoods – and their attempts to seek justice have been frustrated at every turn

IEC to ask the courts to postpone local elections

The chairperson of the Electoral Commission of South Africa said the Moseneke inquiry found that the elections would not be free and fair if held in October
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×