The name is Asha Kiran, or ray of hope. But hope is shuttered out of the Delhi government’s shelter for women of unsound mind in Rohini, which has recorded 11 deaths in the past two months.
The deaths are a reflection of the decadence at the home where about 450 women and children were crammed into a decaying, fetid space having a sanctioned capacity of 350.
Inmates are forced to change clothes in the open, while male staff members monitored surveillance cameras rigged on the walls. At another corner, an ailing inmate force-played a masseuse and massages the legs of a woman employee.
These are shocking observations that the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) chairperson Swati Maliwal made after her nightlong inspection of Asha Kiran Home for the Mentally Retarded, run by the Delhi government’s social welfare department.
Within a span of more than 12 hours from Saturday night to Sunday morning, she witnessed a litany of human rights violations. Her team saw the video of naked women recorded by the CCTV cameras.
“The inmates were being forced to sweep, wash clothes and look after fellow boarders. A woman was helping other inmates take a bath. An employee named Kanta was getting her legs massaged,” Maliwal said.
The team visited a dormitory where 153 women were living cheek by jowl.
“Half of them could not walk or were bedridden. There was only one woman to take care of them. Is it possible for a single person to take that many people to the toilet?” Maliwal wondered.
The DCW set up an inquiry and issued a notice to the social welfare secretary, asking for a reply within 72 hours. Officials could not be reached for their response, despite repeated attempts.
At cottage number 2, the DCW chief saw children sleeping rough in the cold. No mattress was provided because of bed-wetting.
There is no psychologist at a home that shelters women with intellectual disabilities, the team found. A psychiatrist visits twice a week for a few hours.
Aghast with the appalling situation, the DCW sought details of the 11 deaths along with copies of the autopsy.
“We were told that before two months, the number of deaths was less. I am shaken after spending the night there. We will ensure that serious action is taken against those responsible for the condition of the home,” Maliwal said.
The latest deaths were among more than 600 fatalities reported at the home since 2001. According to the 2015 CAG report, about 900 inmates were sometimes kept in that decrepit shelter.