Even in a democracy there is a limitation to the Freedom of Speech.
I am painfully aware, this post can and possibly may attract contempt of court, ire of Indian Law makers (read Parliamentarians of all hues) and severe censure of highest level of executive.
Yet I write, lest millions of Indian sufferers of Mental Illness suffer in indignity.
Let me start with the happy note first, my joy knew no bound on hearing a petition (PIL) filed by Advocate G K Bansal, a bench of Supreme Court of India comprising Hon’ble Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justices N V Ramana and D Y Chandrachud, favored framing of a uniform national policy to deal with those suffering from mental illness and their release from hospitals after being cured.
I had reasons to be ecstatic.
After all I had worked for four years with other 10 Members of Government of India National Mental Health Policy Group, which laboriously and after widest possible stakeholders consultation had framed India’s maiden National Mental Health Policy, that was released with much fan fare by Narendra Modi Government on 10th October, 2014, the World Mental Health Day.
I was happy because I knew that a good policy (if not the best possible) that had faltered at the implementation stage, would get a fresh lease of life.
Something else in the Supreme Court observation buoyed me.-
“It was that the subject being a Concurrent List item, Union Government too could frame standards”.
It had never occurred to me that Mental Health was a concurrent list item. Time and again, even in the deliberations of Mental Health Policy Group central government had taken a position that Health was a State subject and as such central government had limited role to play.
And so far I had accepted this limitation.
But observation of the supreme court gave me hope, because i knew that if actually Mental Illness was a concurrent list item, as per established jurisprudence any statute, Act, Policy, Rules, Standards framed by Government of India will over rule that made by a state/ states and would be applicable at pan India level.
However, today I was forced to wake up from my happy dream, when my friend Dr. Soumitra Pathare, India’s leading Psychiatrist and lead author of Mental Health Care Bill, 2013, on Twitter started asking me for basis of my happiness and reference of how do I say that Mental illness is a item in the Concurrent List of Indian Constitution.
Merrily, I told him to read Times of India of 15th February that had carried observations of the Supreme Court (all News papers had given wide coverage to it) and matter should have rested there.
But my inquisitive mind and the commitment to banish stigma prevalent in India around Mental Illness, forced me to have a close look at Seventh Schedule (Article 246), of the Constitution of India.
As I expectantly scrolled through the items listed in the Concurrent List, the moment I reached item 16, in utter disbelief and desolation, my heart stopped momentarily.
Disbelieving my eyes with great effort some how, I managed enough courage to go to the latest official version of the Constitution at http://lawmin.nic.in and what i found there disrobed me in full public glare.
For the benefit readers let me reproduce Item 16 of the Concurrent List verbatim.-
“Lunacy and mental deficiency, including places for the reception or treatment of lunatics and mental deficients.”
My desolation was simply because, I just could not face or digest the reality.
In the seventieth year of the Independence, the Constitution of India, that has been amended 101 times (latest for GST) since promulgation in 1950, still describes Mental Illness as Lunacy and Mentally ill as Lunatics.
What I call it.
Lunacy of a nation?
Or Bankruptcy of Indian Law Makers, Judiciary, and executive?.
Well, I get sinking feeling.
My last two decade battle of removing stigma around Mental Illness, is a lost cause.
I know “Lunacy” and “Lunatic” was a 18th century construct to describe mentally ill.Even Mental Hospitals were known as Lunatic asylums till Central Institute of Psychiatry, Ranchi changed its name to Mental Hospital in 1920s decades before independence
I also knew that constitution at three places had the reference to “unsound mind”.
I also knew that if a severely Mentally ill person was declared by a court to be of “unsound mind” he loses all his rights, including basic human rights.
He becomes a non-citizen.
I am also aware that nearly 2000 Indian statutes, openly discriminate Mentally Ill.
In fact it is in acknowledgement of this existence of word “unsound mind” in the Constitution of India and People’s representation Act that two decades back i decided neither to get enrolled for elections nor to vote in any Election till the word “unsound mind” was removed from the Constitution..
And I have done so voluntarily.
Not that any court of India has declared me of “unsound mind”.
But existential truth of my existence is that I suffer from extreme and debilitating Bipolar Disorder and have been certified as such by the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences A.I.I.M.S.).
No if I have not been declared a person of unsound mind is because of “the mercy of my wife”, she knows that once she approaches court for divorce, as per Hindu Marriage Act she will get a quick divorce and i will be declared of non-compos-mentis mind
So far my war was with the appearance of the word of “unsound mind” in the Constitution. I
t was like one hand chopped.
Now this double whammy- “lunatic” and that too in 21st century.
It is like both hands and both legs chopped mercilessly.
I have been an ardent student of the Constitution of India since 1986.
I have gone through all the 101 Amendments including the infamous 42nd Amendment.
I have read every sentence of the IX Volumes of debates of various sittings of the Constituent Assembly.
I have collected plenty of evidence on the fact that that the word “unsound mind” was inserted dictatorially after killing all contrarian voices and refusing discussion around the provision. It will be covered in a future blog on akhilvaani.
But what saddens me today that the word “lunacy” and “lunatic” entered Article 246 of the Constitution of India without any debate in the Constituent Assembly.
If there was one, I have not found it.
Calling a Mentally ill, a lunatic should be a criminal.
Sadly, the Constitution of India gives full freedom to declare Mentally ill Lunatic with impunity.
Indian Lunacy Act, was abolished 30 yeas back in 1987 and it became Mental Health Act, 1987
Now supposedly best practices, Mental Health Care Bill, 2013, duly passed by Rajya Sabha is awaiting passage by Lok Sabha in the current Budget Session.
But I dare say. Constitution of India is Supreme-
for constitution Mentally ill is a Lunatic. And Mental Illness Lunacy.
If such is the case, even if President of India, gives his assent to the Mental Health Care Bill, 2013, to become a Law, as per my limited knowledge such a Statute will be null and void. Any statute that is contrary to provisions of Constitution has to be treated null and void.
So what is needed.
A PIL. Of what use. The words Lunacy and Lunatic have survived in the Constitution for seventy years. And judiciary has been mute spectator.
Appeal to Law Makers- for what- they have immunity i do not recall a case post Independence where a law maker has lost job because of Lunacy or because of being declared of unsound mind. Law makers in India are people of finest mental health.
Appeal to executive- its hands are tied with so many competing worries, who has time for Lunatics- they even are not vote banks. And the government does not have majority in Rajya Sabha.
Sole hope. People.
But Lunatics are hapless people.
What can they do.
But you who are not lunatic can take up the cause.
Who knows today you do not have a family member or friend who is Lunatic.
But who knows what tomorrow has in store.
Will you be silent even then.
I have stuck my neck out.
If the price for such article is -jail. Better it be. It will still be better than branded lunatic.
To declare some one of unsound mind you require courts permission.
To declare some one as Lunatic your voice is enough. Constitution guarantees you this right
Till such insanity prevails in the nation and Lunatic and Lunacy are part of the Constitution of India why even fight the battle of de-stigmatization of Mental Illness.
It is a war already lost, even before it began