Way back in 1998 when no one wanted to discuss his/ her mental illness in the country, God chose me as the poster boy of Mental Illness. All my depressive breakdowns of catatonic numbness and destructive psychotic manic flares were rather public events. Two decades have gone by and during the period I had the misfortune of most publicly discussed “Indian Lunatic, Insane, Paagal, Mad Person” (you can choose or add your own favourite word/words) in print and visual media of the country. In parallel I also had to fortune of being most celebrated Madman of Planet India with the Government appointing me to Government of India Mental Health Policy Group and most recently, Member of Central Mental Health Authority.
But existential sad reality of my life is that I am Mental? I am Lunatic as described in Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India, I am Insane as per more than hundred of statutes of the country. ? I am officially declared Pagal (my Illness Bipolar Disorder I with all other morbidity is a severe Mental disorder) on prescriptions of A.I.I.M.S.? And I run the risk of being declared to be of “unsound mind” by Honorable Lordships even though they them selves have no clue “what Unsound Mind is”?
In Indian Nation Lunatic Insane, Mad, Of Unsound Mind, Bipolar, Schizophrenic, Split Personality are all used interchangeably. And they have legal sanction. The Lunacy Act 1912 was repealed in 1993, but the word “Lunatic” exists in the Seventh Schedule (Concurrent List) Item 16. Mental Health Care Act 2017 has abolished the words “Reception Order for Lunatics” but Indian constitution Seventh Schedule continues to retain them. People declared “Of Unsound Mind” by a court become non-citizen and lose all their rights under hundreds of statutes including, right to vote under Peoples Representation Act, 1950. This is despite the fact that that except Indian Contract Act, 1872 which throws some light on legal meaning of “sound mind”, I have not found any where, what the unsound mind is. Even the Contract Act was liberal regarding the definition and accepted that even people locked in Lunatic asylums could be of sound mind and in such condition they could enter into valid contract.
So from where the real stigma and discrimination comes against severely mentally ill?
My needle of suspicion goes to the Lunacy Act, 1912 where a Lunatic is defined as-
3 (5) “lunatic” means an idiot or person of unsound mind
It was possibly based on this definition of “lunatics” that makers of Modern India Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar (Father of the Indian Constitution) and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (who moved the motion in the Constituent Assembly) dubbed severely mentally ill as “Of Unsound Mind” and disfranchised them with the final words of Dr. Ambedkar on 8th January 1949 in the debate of Constituent Assembly-
“We all agree that every person who is of unsound mind should be deprived of his vote. We all agree that unsound persons should not be included in the voter list. But the question remains as to who is to determine whether a person is of unsound mind or not. It seems to be that unless the qualification which is introduced in this motion say that a person can be excluded from the electoral roll only when he has been adjudged to be of unsound mind by some impartial judicial authority, seems to be sound proposition.”
So it is apparent that entire constituent assembly led by Dr. Ambedkar and Pandit Nehru, in 1949 decided that a person who is of unsound mind should be deprived of his vote and not included in the voter list. So they inbuilt the ultimate stigma and discrimination against mental illness without knowing what “unsound mind meant”
Why I have brought all these into picture now. Because I know first hand what stigma of mental illness means both as a sufferer and care giver. Despite being one of the luckiest survivors I have faced stigma at home, out side in society at work place and where not. Once I decided to go public about my mental illness, no employer would touch me even with a long pole except a couple of exceptions.
Brute stigma and discrimination against Mental Illness has suddenly come to fore most recently in last one month or so. In this connection the following are of proximate importance-
(a) As part of electrol campaign for Lok Sabha Elections 2019, leaders of political parties of all hues across the countries have with impunity attacked their rivals claiming to be mental, pagal, suffering from Bipolar Disorder, Schizos, having lost mental balance, fit to be admitted in asylums. These have further perpetuated stigma, discrimination and profiling. It has shocked a multitude of sufferers of mental illness beyond comprehension.
(b) Last week I amongst others was enraged by the name, poster and trailer of a movie called “Mental Hai Kya”?. Irrespective of the fact that what ultimately is there in the movie, what I have seen so far in the name of cheap publicity is reprehensible to say the least. Such producer, director and actors by now should have landed in jail under the provisions of Mental Health Care Act, 2017. But we are a callous nation, where there is complete impunity, constitutional sanction (lunatic is the word that exists even now in the Seventh Schedule), legislative freedom, judicial closure of eyes, societal stereotyping and media irresponsibility of all matter related to mental illness. As regards Bollywood its over all track record has been pathetic (with exception counted on fingers) in the derogatory portrayal of mental illness and learned members of censor board have been complicit in clearing insensitive and even illegal acts of movie Mughals whose only focus in hundreds of Crores of collections.
(c) A spirited campaign by mental health activists, Indian Psychiatric Society, Indian Medical Association, many conscientious others including few responsible media persons and publications have all gone to deaf ears. “Mental Hai Kya”? continues to rule the roost. Mentally Ill of the country continue to weep at the deafening silence of all powerful forces, including regulatory authorities. Political parties and governments have all been silent and mute spectators or should I call complicit?
Well All I can say I am Mental ? I am Lunatic ? I am Pagal. I am of Unsound Mind
I have gone through travails of multiple episodes of “Madness and Sadness”?.
I also know how traumatic my six decades journey as a human has been due to being afflicted with severe Mental Illness.
I know what stigma is? I fave been stigmatized? My family has suffered more?
I know how traumatic the jibes and discrimination affect Mentally Ill.
I know how mentally ill men and women, boys and girls become homeless? I have seen how homeless women and men are driven to desperation of Mental Illness.?
I know how mentally ill are denied treatment?
I have seen mentally ill being locked at home, institutions, chained in temples and dargahs.
I have seen how Mentally ill are tortured in the same asylums which are supposed to make them sane.
I know what suicidal ideation is. Having made suicide attempts I know what it means to have dagger of Section 309 of Indian Penal Code
I know being severely mentally ill itself is a hellish living. Stigma, Discrimination and Profiling by any or all institutions including media and movies makes living impossible.
I have thought a lot, in anger, in sadness, philosophically and pragmatically. I have mulled over all the dangers lurking.
And to the question- “Mental Hai Kya”?. I Dare Say “Haan Main Hun Naa”?
Yes I am Mental ? And I am grateful to the God that he made me like this, at least it has helped me in one way- when I see a Mentally Ill Person, before asking “Mental Hai Kya?”. I look in the mirror. The mirror stops me from asking this nefarious question.
Today at least 14 Crore Indians suffers from one or other Mental Illness, out of which 4-5 Crore suffer from severe Mental Illness.
It is time for creating an army of 10 Lakh Indians or may be more who have courage to say-
I am Mental So What? I will still be winner in Life.