Suicide is Not a Crime Now !

A bill which seeks to decriminalise suicide and provide better healthcare for people suffering from mental illness was passed by the SabhaRajya   on Monday.The Mental Health Care Bill was introduced in the light of the provisions made under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (UNCRPD), which was ratified by India in 2007. The Bill is an attempt towards aligning with the UNCRPD and addressing mental health issues from a right based perspective; while some amendments such as the decriminalisation of suicide are progressive, the Bill fails to holistically address the issues of Mental Health/ Illness. 

Some of the salient features of the Bill are:

The Mental Health Care Bill, which was first introduced in the Rajya Sabha in August 2013, was finally debated and passed by the Upper House of Parliament yesterday. The Bill repeals the Mental Health Act, 1987 and consists of 134 amendments, which many MPs in the Rajya Sabha hailed as historic, while also warning the Speaker that he must not rush through it given the importance of this amendment. 
The first legislation addressing issues of Mental Health/ Illness in India was during the colonial era known as the Indian Lunacy Act, 1912; later it was amended and enforced in the form of the Mental Health Act, 1987. The focus of the Indian Lunacy Act and the Mental Health Act were primarily on treatment, regarding admission and discharge of diagnosed individuals and regulations for psychiatric institution among several others; however, both these legislations hugely lacked in making any provisions against the discrimination and upholding of the rights of persons with mental illness. Mental Health/ Illness in India has always lacked awareness, understanding and nuanced perspective and the discourse on it has mostly been driven by Psychiatrists and other medical practitioners. Persons diagnosed with mental illness have a history of being discriminated, marginalised, and excluded and being denied basic fundamental rights. 

The primary objective of the Bill is to ensure the right of every individual without discrimination to access affordable and good quality mental health services; which as per the provisions are to be made available by the Government in sufficient quantity and easily accessible geographically. It also states that persons with mental illness have the right to equality of treatment, protection from inhuman and degrading treatment, free legal services, access to their medical records, and complain regarding deficiencies in provision of mental health care. The new Bill defines mental illness as ‘a substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that grossly impairs judgment, behaviour, capacity to recognise reality or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life, mental conditions associated with the abuse of alcohol and drugs, but does not include mental retardation which is a condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind of a person, specially characterised by subnormality of intelligence’ It decriminalises suicide and allows for Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) only with muscle relaxants and anaesthesia, prohibiting the use of ECT on minors  Makes provisions for ensuring ‘informed consent’ and for treatment procedures which maybe least restrictive in nature. 
The Bill also makes provisions with regard to individual capacity, it states that every individual shall be deemed to have the capacity to make decision unless it is proved that the individual is (i) unable to understand and (ii) unable to appreciate the foreseeable consequences of his decision – The Bill makes provisions for the setting up of a Mental Health Review Commission; Central and State Mental Health authority and establishment of more treatment centres/ hospitals for mental illness. – The Bill provides that each individual has the right to make an Advanced Directive specifying whether or not they want to be treat for a mental illness; the nature of treatment and who the care – giver might be. However, if the doctor or care – giver do not wish to follow the directive they can apply to the Mental Health Review Board. While certain provisions of the Bill are progressive in nature; the Bill in its entirety is not as progressive and does not reflect a nuanced understanding of mental illness. From the definition of mental illness to the various provisions in it, it is evident that the Bill does not take into account factors such as poverty, the immediate environment of the individuals and other socio – cultural factors which affect an individual’s mental health. Kanimozhi (DMK) and Viplove Thakur (INC) in their respective speeches emphasised on the need to look at and address environmental factors affecting mental health instead of only focusing on treatment; Husain Dalwai (INC) also pointed out that the Bill focuses only on illness and does not make provisions for prevention. The Bill lays great emphasis on setting up several commission and boards for monitoring and regulation of Mental Health Care facilities; however, it fails to address issues of creating awareness, lack of human resource, absence of data regarding how many individuals in India suffer from mental illness, social integration of persons with mental illness and support systems for care – givers and family members. Madhusudan Mistry (INC), in a passionate speech raised several relevant issues pointing out that the Bill fails to lay down any provisions for creating awareness and addressing the stigma associated with mental illness. He also spoke of the need to entirely prohibit the use of ECT a view held by several civil society/ user/ survivor groups; pointing out that internationally too there is a movement opposing ECT as a method of treatment. He also pointed out that the Bill is ‘individualistic in nature’ and does not make sufficient provisions for family members and care – givers who also face a lot of challenges – a view echoed by Rajeev Gowda (INC) in his speech demanding that counselling support also be provided to family members and caregivers. 
Several other parliamentarians such as A. K. Selvaraj (AIDMK), Madhusudan Mistry (INC) and Vikas Mahante (BJP) also raised the need for a thorough survey and data base of the number of persons with   mentalillness. 
While several speeches made in parliament yesterday were backed by facts and ground realities, several points raised reflected the lack of understanding regarding mental health. Towards the end of the debate, while the voting was being carried out the Deputy Chairman of the House P. J. Kurien referred to persons with mental illness as ‘mentally challenged’; several other parliamentarians in their speeches too seemed to confuse mental retardation with mental illness – which reflects the poor understanding of the very basic difference between mental illness and intellectual disabilities.
From several studies conducted in the country it has been found that 9 out 10 cases of mental illness go untreated – in the light of these appalling statistics the Bill does little to address mental illness and mental health keeping by taking into consideration the various socio – economic, political and cultural factors. It is also worth noting the poor turnout in the Rajya Sabha for the debate. 
While the Bill is a welcome move towards the inclusion and better treatment of persons with mental illness, there is a lot more which need to be addressed and taken into account to ensure that the rights of persons with mental illness are protected 

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NGO’s Rescue Sexually Abused Children

Each story is sadder than the next, but what is most heartbreaking is to see the indifference shown towards these children by the police. To break this silence of complicity NGOs decided to organise a public hearing with victims restating their experiences.

A 16-year-old girl with her hand decorated with henna stands inside a protection home on the outskirts of New Delhi November 9, 2012. She was working as a maid and was later rescued by Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement), a charity which rescues victims of bonded labour. There are no reliable figures for how many people are trafficked for domestic servitude. The Indian government says 126,321 trafficked children were rescued from domestic work in 2011/12, a rise of almost 27 percent from the previous year. Activists say if you include women over 18 years, the figure could run into the hundreds of thousands. Picture taken November 9, 2012. To match Feature INDIA-TRAFFICKING/ REUTERS/Mansi Thapliyal (INDIA - Tags: SOCIETY POVERTY) - RTR3B6GZ

India is reported to have 12 million children working in forced labour. The figure alone would boggle the mind and yet this is an issue no wants to address.It is to break this silence of complicity that the NGO HAQ: Centre for Child Rights and Campaign Against Child Trafficking decided to organise a public hearing in mid-June, the first of its kind in India, where children who had faced the trauma of being trafficked went public with their horrifying stories.Each testimony is sadder than the next, but what is most heartbreaking is to see the indifference shown towards these children by the police and other law enforcement agencies.Some of the pain suffered by these young lives could have been mitigated if the police had taken timely action. A common thread that runs through these young lives is that of poverty and how many of them tried to escape their plight by wanting to make some easy money.
A 13-year-old child told the jury, comprising of former additional solicitor general Siddhartha Luthra, theatre personality Lushin Dubey and journalist Om Thanvi, of how she was on her way to the neighbourhood market along with two of her friends when she was kidnapped by two men she had seen in the colony.She was drugged and kept in an isolated room where she was raped and then, one week later, sold to become a prostitute for Rs 200,000.Her kidnappers gave her a daily dose of steroids so she could look like a grown woman, after which she was sold to a brothel in Siliguri, West Bengal, for Rs 800,000. The brothel’s owner forced her to engage both in prostitution and drug peddling.Meanwhile, her parents had filed a missing persons complaint. After seven months, the family sought the help of Sharan, an NGO working on drug de-addiction in the Nizamuddin Basti, New Delhi.Sharan referred the case to HAQ: Centre for Child Rights. A habeas corpus petition had to be filed to get the police to take action.By this time another three months had elapsed. In a case where perhaps every second mattered, the delays only added to her suffering. The local police had failed to even trace the mobile numbers from which she had tried to call her mother.
HAQ, along with the anti-trafficking group Shakti Vahini, met a senior police officer to get the case transferred to the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit which finally resulted in her getting rescued from the Khalpara district in Siliguri’s red light area.Even after her rescue, the police took its time over arresting the men who had kidnapped her.
The girl’s ordeal lasted more than three years, but what was even more traumatic was for her to testify in court. Even after eight appearances, she continues to have to visit court and repeat her experiences in public.Even a timely intervention by the police does not always bring about relief as was the case of a 14 year old who was trafficked from North 24 Parganas, Bengal, by her neighbour, who taking advantage of her family’s poverty, lured her to Delhi on the promise of providing her with a good job.En route, the man sold her to a woman in Dhanbad, Jharkhand, who forced her into prostitution. A fortnight later, five to six men were taking her somewhere when some policemen chanced to pass by.Scared of the police, the men ran away and the police took this crying girl to the Nirmal Chhaya shelter home where she stayed for two months during which period her family members were identified.The neighbour was arrested and released on bail within one week while this girl’s case has been pending for the last ten years.
Although her mother, who works as a daily labourer, welcomed her back, the other villagers did not want her to live there and so she was sent to a shelter home run by the NGO Jabala.Jabala took the initiative of getting her admitted to a local school. When she turned 18, this young girl told the jury members that she began working in a police canteen supervised by Jabala and has presently joined the Green Police in Kolkata.
The modus operandi to lure women into prostitution often varies.
A 16-year-old girl studying in Class 8 from North 24 Parganas became close to an individual with whom she had a phone conversation.
A series of such conversations saw him promise to marry her, and so she left her parents’ home to meet her ‘telephone friend’ in Pune, Maharashtra.When she reached Pune, he refused to marry her and sold her to a stranger who forced her into prostitution.She was rescued from a flat in Farashkhana, Pune, by two NGOs, Jabala of West Bengal and the Rescue Foundation in Maharashtra who helped ensure the trafficker was convicted.
Her family, however, did not want her back and it was only through Jabala’s initiative that she was accepted back into the fold. Jabala helped provide her with vocational training and she presently works in a police canteen run by Jabala in Kolkata.
Another survivor from Assam gave testimony about how she was preparing for her Class 10 exams when a friend of hers introduced her to a man who promised to take her to Chennai where he would ensure she got a good job and also marry her.Thus lured with the promise of marriage, she was first brought to Delhi and later taken to Fatehabad, Haryana, where she was kept in confinement for 15 days, raped by multiple men including the man who promised to amrry her, and forced into sexual slavery.
After 15 days, she was sold to another man where she was made to work through the day and sexually abused at night.The survivor informed the jury that she managed to get hold of a mobile phone and contact her parents who reported the matter to the local police in Assam.
The police sought Shakti Vahini’s help and the girl was rescued. A case was registered in Assam against the perpetrators.She was produced before the child welfare committee in Fatehabad and as per its order, was sent back to Assam where she was able to appear for her Class 10 and 12 exams. She is not able to study further because her father, a daily wager, lacks the means to educate her.
Another horrifying story is that of a 14 year old whose parents agreed to marry her to a 40-year-old man who claimed to belong to a rich Kanpur family. He paid the parents Rs 10,000 and bore the marriage expenses.When this child reached Kanpur, she received a rude shock. Not only was she made to work as a domestic help, she was forbidden to step out of the house.
After a few weeks, her husband forced her into prostitution. She was compelled to sleep with various relatives of her husband. When she resisted, she was denied food. She gave birth to two children, but the abuse continued till she fled with her children. When she left home, she was pregnant with her third child.Her parents were not happy with her decision to return to them and kept asking her to return to her husband. There was no legal intervention in this case as her family refused to register a case. The police too do not seem to feel the need to proceed with any formal complaint.

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JAN CHETNA SAMITI

State- HARYANA

Ngo name : JAN CHETNA SAMITI

Area of work: Aged/Elderly, Children, Education & Literacy, Legal Awareness & Aid, Micro Finance (SHGs), Rural Development & Poverty Alleviation, Water Resources, Women’s Development & Empowerment

State:CHANDIGARH Ngo name :AATM SAMMAAN FOUNDATIONSArea of work:1. Education to children of families (immigrants) who have no access to schools 2. Computer course for housewives who have no access to computers around the region 3. Identification of employment opportunities for women in the regionChief Functionary:Rahul GuptaEmail:aatmsammaanfoundations@gmail.com

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CVC warns of action against bank staff, spouses pooling money via NGO’s

The Central Vigilance Commission has red-flagged the setting up of NGOs by employees of public sector banks and enterprises to get donations from contractors or other persons having official dealings with them and has warned them of strict action.The move comes as the Commission has observed instances of associations and organisations, formed or patronised by employees, their spouses, etc, obtaining donations from contractors, vendors, customers or other persons having commercial relations or official dealings with the public sector banks and enterprises. Considering that such contributions may lead to unethical practices and misuse of power, the CVC advised the departments of public enterprises, financial services as well as the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) to examine the issue of incorporating suitable and specific provision in the rules governing the conduct of officers or issue necessary instructions to curb such practice, it said in new guidelines issued today. Following this, the Department of Financial Services (DFS) has issued instructions to all public sector banks, insurance companies, financial institutions to stop the practise of obtaining donations. The DFS has said violation of these instructions by any official will be viewed seriously and delinquent officials will be liable for disciplinary action for offence of bribery under Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.The Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) has advised all administrative departments to issue necessary instructions to all public sector enterprises under their administrative control to curb the practise, it said.”All Chief Vigilance Officers (CVOs) of public sector banks and enterprises have been asked to take necessary action in case they come across such instances,” a senior CVC official said. The CVOs act as distant arm of the CVC to check corruption in government departments they work with. DoPT had recently asked all central government employees not to misuse their position to secure job in any company or firm for their family members related to them by blood or marriage. Existing rules bar a government servant from giving any contract to a company or a person if any member of his family is employed in that firm.

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