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India is home to 30-40 million people living with psychosocial disabilities or what we refer to as disability caused due to a ‘mental illness’.

 The archaic Mental Health Act of 1987, an offshoot of the colonial Lunacy Acts, makes people with ‘unsound’ mind non-human! They are not considered to have opinions, wishes or feelings; and cannot act upon their own will, as per laws.

 The Disability Act of 1995 defines ‘mental illness’ as a disability. India has also ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) that talks about India’s obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights ofALL persons with disabilities.

 However, the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare seems to be ‘unaware’ of this. Nothing explains why then it has come out with a Mental Health Care (MHC) Bill, while completely failing to include mental health & well being to the Right to Health Act!

 The draft of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill 2012 recently unveiled by the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment (MSJE) guarantees the ‘legal capacity’ and the ‘right to choice’ of all persons with disabilities, including those with psychosocial disabilities. The Ministry of Health has gone drastically against CRPD and the draft Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill and has advocated for involuntary incarceration and continuing with electric shock treatments and even lobotomies!



Letter to
Union Health Minister Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad
Respected Sir,

On 1 October 2007, the Government ratified the CRPD, and in doing so, made a commitment to the international community on its obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights and freedoms of all people with disabilities, including those with psychosocial disabilities. There is the debate, whether the Mental Health Act 1987 (MHA) is at all a disability rights Act. MHA is about deprivation of right to liberty, and not about ensuring right to care. Mentally ill people are the only set of people who pay as a ‘consumer’ to get involuntarily arrested and committed. This historical perversion in law is not adequately appreciated.

Traditionally for 200 years, some persons seen as being ‘unsound’ before law, have been subjects of the civil services / judiciary / prisons department, through the Indian Lunatic Asylums Act, 1858; and the Indian Lunacy Act, 1912. These Acts included the categories of the ‘insanes’ and the ‘idiots’. ‘Unsound’ mind was a legal category which allowed the courts to determine level of safeguards and protections the state needed to provide for society and included a broad social category of people. This notion became strongly medicalised when the ILA 1912 was changed to the Mental Health Act in 1987, following advocacy by the Indian Psychiatric Society, post Independence, without dismantling the penal structure. The ‘mental / intellectual / multiple disabilities’ group (known as ‘idiots’ in the Lunacy Act), with strong advocacy from parents’ groups, shifted to the jurisdiction of the disability department, which was formulating its own human rights sensitive legislations (Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995; National Trust Act, 1999). People with psychosocial disabilities have continued to remain in penal / medical control within the mental health law. The Government of India has the dubious obligation, under MHA, to incarcerate against will, health care patients, in violation of any model of medical ethics! Mental health advocates have been asking for the full inclusion of all rights of all persons with disabilities, including persons with psychosocial disabilities, in a comprehensive disability legislation, also presently in the making.

In India, since 2001, the government has liberalized norms for running private mental asylums. In the last decade alone, over 400 private mental asylums have been licensed in different states. The last decade has seen enormous human rights atrocities committed on the institutionalized populations, including rapes, assault, custodial deaths, overuse of shock treatment, overdrugging, fraudulent and deceitful commitments, solitary confinement, illegal and wrongful confinement; and neglect amounting to gross negligence of basic rights; and finally, mass roundup of homeless and poor into mental asylums as part of ‘clean city’ campaigns. Mental health is about keeping peace and it not about violent measures of forcing care.

The Disabled Rights Group (DRG and National Alliance on Access to Justice for People Living with a Mental Illness (NAAJMI), are demanding the repeal of the mental health law; and a moratorium on penal institutions. They are strongly advocating for community mental health and support systems to be made available– (mental health within overall development, groups and peer support, neighbourhood care systems, conflict reduction and peace building strategies, supportive counselling, addressing stigma, trauma informed services, and a range of alternatives).

Human rights activists have been up in arms against the recent Mental Health Care Bill. The main concerns about this Bill are:

Human rights activists have been up in arms against the recent Mental Health Care Bill. The main concerns about this Bill are:

It maintains the status quo on mental asylums, liberalizing the laws for involuntary commitments.
The MHC Bill makes a mockery of medical ethics and patient consent. The right to choose or refuse a treatment has been removed in a stepwise manner in the Bill.
A person has to be proved to be ‘competent’ to be able to exercise choice and autonomy. The standards for ‘competency’ are so high that no health care patient, no disabled person, in fact no person, can fulfill those standards.
Contrary to provisions of the CRPD, it provides for stepwise procedures for full take over of decision making, by a nominated representative.

I demand that all rights of people with psychosocial disabilities be covered by the recently drafted ‘Rights of persons with Disabilities Bill, 2012’, and that the MHC Bill be given a quiet burial.

Kamayani Bali-Mahabal started this petition with a single signature, and now has 283 supporters. Start a petition today to change something you care about.