Human and health rights activists have shared photographs of inmates, who they say have been living in inhumane conditions for the last one year at a government-run mental hospital in Behrampore town of West Bengal, on social media.
The photos were shared by Anjali, a Kolkata-based mental health rights organisation, after a team of health activists from the non-governmental organisation went to celebrate Independence Day on Monday with the patients of Berhampore Mental Hospital.
There are at least 430 patients, including women, at the hospital in Berhampore, which about 200 km north of state capital Kolkata.
According to the NGO, inmates -- both men and women -- have to sleep on dirty floors and use filthy toilets and many of them have not bathed or shaved for months. Patients discard clothes because they are infested with bugs and lice, it added.
The photographs have gone viral on social media after the NGO posted them on Twitter, with many people tagging West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, Union health minister JP Nadda and other government authorities.
Ratnaboli Ray, who heads the NGO Anjali, said they have brought the conditions at the mental asylum to the notice of the hospital administration several times in the past one year but to no effect.
“The situation just went from bad to worse. Finally, we were forced to share the photos with health activists across the country,” she told HT on Tuesday.
Patients say 'we discard clothes' as they are infested wth bugs and lice. No fumigation @ Bahrampur Mentl Hosp pic.twitter.com/AHsUROTaFZ— Anjali Mental Health (@AnjaliMHR) August 16, 2016
Aditi Basu, a member of the NGO who visited the hospital, said she was horrified by what she saw.
“It is not for the first time that we saw this. Every time we complain, the authorities come up with flimsy excuses. The patients are forced to live in a condition which it not only unhygienic but inhumane,” Basu said.
Many Twitter users and health activists have said they will petition the National Human Rights Commission and a Delhi-based health activist has even said he would take the issue to the Supreme Court.
“There is no barber, no laundry… the bathrooms are so filthy that patients are falling on the ground and hurting themselves… The conditions are brutal. Is this azadi? It is better that this Behrampore mental hosp is closed down,” Satendra Singh, who was the first person to share the photos online, tweeted.
There has been no response from the chief minister so far and authorities in the district refused to comment on the issue.
“I’m not authorised to speak to the media,” Pabitra Sarkar, superintendent of the hospital, told Hindustan Times.
Subhasis Saha, chief medical officer of health, Murshidabad district, said, “I do not entertain calls at night. I’m listening to music now. I won’t speak even if you consider it as an emergency.”
Berhampore is not the first mental health institute that is in the news for ill treatment of inmates. On August 6, 2001, 28 people were killed at a private mental asylum in Erwadi in Tamil Nadu.
In India, mental health problems remain a huge stigma with most people, even families, ignore patients and millions go untreated because of lack of resources. Families even refuse to take back people who are medically declared fit.
An estimated 8-10% of the population lives with some kind of psychiatric disorder, ranging from depression and anxiety to schizophrenia and alcohol and drug abuse.