The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has taken suo motu cognizance of the ill treatment of patients at the Berhampore mental hospital in Murshidabad district and has sent a notice to West Bengal chief secretary Basudeb Banerjee, calling for a detailed report within eight weeks.
The basis of NHRC’s action was a report published in Hindustan Times on August 17, reporting how a number of patients at the hospital, including women, were kept naked and left to sleep on dirty floors.
The report was based on photographs taken by members of an NGO, Anjali that is active in the sphere of mental health.
“The Commission, reiterating its commitment towards the promotion and protection of rights of mentally ill persons, has observed that the contents of the news report are distressing. Accordingly, it has issued a notice to the Chief Secretary, Government of West Bengal calling for a detailed report about the state of affairs in Behrampur Mental Hospital along with the status of other mental hospitals run by the State Government,” NHRC said in a press release issued on Thursday.
The NHRC has also asked its Special Rapporteur, East Zone, Domodar Sarangi, to assess the situation on the ground and submit a report to the commission within eight weeks.
“This is a systemic failure. It can happen anywhere in any hospital in Bengal or outside Bengal. Therefore, the need of the hour is to strengthen the monitoring system as per the Mental Health Act and the committee should be constituted of members who are committed to the issue and unbiased. Government must take these reports seriously and chalk out action plan,” Ratnaboli Ray, the head of the NGO, told HT as she welcomed NHRC’s move.
The government, besides the Berhampore mental hospital, will also have to submit report on the state of affairs at all other government-run mental hospital in the state.
There are six government-run hospitals in the state, three of which are in Kolkata, one in Purulia and one in Cooch Behar district.
“According to the media report, carried on the 17th August, 2016, there are about 430 patients, including men and women, staying in the hospital at present. There is no facility of laundry. There is no barber and the bathrooms are in such a bad condition that the patients often fall on the ground and hurt themselves,” NHRC wrote.
HT reported that members of the NGO, when paying a visit to the hospital to celebrate Independence Day with the patients, found the inmates were forced to live in unhygienic and inhumane conditions. Their clothes were full of bugs and lice, forcing them to abandon the clothes. The clothes were not fumigated for months.
However, the patients were given new clothes after HT published the report on Wednesday. Members of the NGO described the move as an attempt by the hospital authorities to ‘cover-up’.
“The Commission, while issuing the notice to the State Government, has also observed that a state-run Mental Hospital is bound to take care of the patients who are staying there. Mentally ill persons are also entitled to the same inalienable rights as are available to other human beings. They are entitled to be treated with dignity, decency and equality and cannot be discriminated against. There is an ardent need to educate and change the attitude of the public authorities towards the persons suffering from mental illness,” the NHRC press release said.
Berhampore mental hospital is about 200 kms to the north of Kolkata.
When this correspondent telephoned the hospital authorities on August 16, the super said he is not authorised to speak to the media. The chief medical officer of the district said he was listening to music and will not speak even if it was an emergency.