As a last resort, they seek divine intervention

As a last resort, they seek divine intervention

In her 11 years of life, Priyanka could never share her joy when she saw monsoon clouds hovering over the Pench River and heard the rhapsody of raindrops sputtering. She could not express herself as she was born deaf and dumb. Her mother probably would have known but nobody in Jam Sauli knew who her mother is.

Mentally-challenged people abandoned at Chamatkari Hanuman temple in Jam Sauli in Madhya Pradesh.

Priyanka was found abandoned on the premises of little known Chamatkari Hanuman temple at Jam Sauli between picturesque Chhindwara and Nagpur.

A serious mental patient, she roamed around the little temple town, mostly stark naked; survived on left over food from dustbin and drain water. Sometimes she sought food from devotees thronging the temple and received only boiling water in return that burnt her flesh. She screamed in excruciating pain. But there was nobody to take care of her.
About a year ago, her miserable life came to an end when the 11-year old was crushed under a truck on the day of Shivaratri when she was wandering on the road without any assistance. Priyanka’s  case was not an isolated incident. More than 1,000 mental patients have been dumped by their relatives in that temple so far. Some of them stay back in ramshackle shanties hoping for a miracle, others have left the mentally-challenged members of their family and returned home.

Her death triggered action on the ground. A Kolkata-based non-governmental organisation, Sevac, which runs a mental hospital in metropolis and provides basic medical services at the temple, approached the National Human Rights Commission  (NHRC) seeking its intervention to maintain the dignity and human rights of these mentally challenged people.

The NHRC conducted its own investigation and prodded the government both at the Centre and Madhya Pradesh. The official  repo­rts firmly establish daily horror stories being unfolded at the temple, which Sevac’s secretary Tapas Kumar Roy alleged came out of nowhere almost three decades ago and was flourishing ever since its fame as a “miracle-place” for mental patients spread.

A five-member Central team headed by Dr C R Chandrasekhar from the
National Institute for Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore, found that the temple does not have any medical facility. The nearest medical centre is a government hospital in Sausar, 10 km away from the temple without any public transport. The nearest mental hospital is in Nagpur, 70 km away. Patients and their families live in an adjacent dormitory without water and sanitation, because of which they use open space for defecation, cloth washing and bathing. Some live in equally unhygienic shanties. The abandoned ones are on the street.

Also thousands of people visit the temple every Saturday and on holidays seeking help for the mentally-retarded people in their family.

In a detailed study, Roy recorded presence of 1,069 mental patients, including 759 female, in the temple. A majority of them aged between 15 and 50 years and
predominantly daily wage earners. Most of them belong to the SC, ST and OBC communities. The Sevac team carried out clinical interview with 150 patients and found that 51 per cent of them have major mental illness, 43 per cent have minor mental illness and six per cent are epilepsy patients.

The families are not aware that these patients can be treated. They did not have access to proper mental health care; did not have any information on how these patients can be handled and simply wanted to get rid of the unwanted member of the family.

“Primary blame lies with the state for its failure to provide mental health care with residential facilities. The families have little option other than bringing their relatives to traditional healing places or religious shrines. In the absence of community care, there are enormous pressure on the family,” commented Vikram Patel, a professor of mental health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who was not
involved with Chhindwara temple in any manner. Priyanka was not chained. But many staying in the temple are. Take the case of 28-year-old Praveen, for example. Praveen had eight years history of violence, irrita­bility, demanding money and shouting. His father believed that his behaviour was caused by evil spirit which can be spirited away only by prayers at the temple. They found it very difficult to manage the evil spirit inside Praveen's body and decided to chain him.

“Mental patients need treatment and care and the absence of them at hospitals makes the families nervous. They are squeezed and out of their wits,” Patel said adding that mental health infrastructure needed to be augmented manifold.

India currently has 38 mental hospitals and 4,000-odd psychiatrists – mostly in urban areas – leaving the countryside bereft of almost any medical treatment for mentally ill. Since 1982, the Central government is running the National Mental Health Programme in 123 districts in 30 states. 

Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad informed Parliament on March 13 that the government has no plans to expand it in 11th plan. To address the manpower shortage, it funded 11 institutes to open up centres of excellence. Another 11 institutes received Central funds for establishing PG training departments in mental health.

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