A new Human Rights Watch report reveals the degree of suffering experienced by women and girls with disabilities in India. The research was conducted over two years from December 2012 to November 2014.
It is based on more than 200 interviews with women and girls with disabilities from New Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru and Mysore, as well as family members, healthcare professionals and police officials.
“‘Treated Worse than Animals’: Abuses against Women and Girls with Psychosocial or Intellectual Disabilities in Institutions in India,” is a 106-page report, documenting abuses including involuntary admission and arbitrary detention in mental hospitals.
Twenty-four hospitals or general hospitals with psychiatric beds, rehabilitation centres and residential care facilities were visited by HRW for the report.
Inmates with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities were found to live in conditions of overcrowding, appalling hygiene and forced treatment – including electro shock therapy.
Kriti Sharma, researcher at HRW said that people with psychosocial disabilities are ridiculed, stigmatised or even feared in India. “Long-term warehousing of women and girls with disabilities is simply not the answer,” she said. “Even in the most serious cases, there are ways to find out what kind of services they want.”
No clear official government records or estimates of psychosocial or intellectual disabilities in India exist. Figures from the 2011 census estimate that only 2.21 percent of the Indian population has a disability, including 1.5 million people with intellectual disabilities and just 722,826 people (0.05 percent of the population) with psychosocial disabilities (such as schizophrenia or bipolar condition).
These figures are at odds with those accepted by the United Nations or the World Health Organisation, which estimate that the numbers living with a disability globally to be closer to 15 percent.
Deepali,a 46-year-old woman from New Delhi with a perceived psychosocial disability, was interviewed as part of the report on August 25, 2013. She told HRW: “Nurses would make us have the medications in front of them. If I complained that there were too many tablets, the nurse would sometimes forcefully put the pills in my mouth and stroke my throat to send them down, the way I feed my dogs… I woke up one night and I couldn’t move; my body was in intense physical pain. A nurse came and jabbed an injection into my body, without even taking off my clothes. You are treated worse than animals; it’s an alternate reality.”
The report makes some recommendations, including calling on the central government in India to take steps to end abusive practices and inhumane conditions in mental hospitals and residential care institutions.
According to HRW, India should, without delay, establish a comprehensive legal reform which abolishes guardianship and recognises the legal capacity of all persons with disabilities, on an equal basis with others.
“India has an opportunity to move away from a system of isolation and abuse and instead build a system of support and independence,” Sharma said. “The lives of millions of women with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities are at stake.”