Over two years after a woman with mental illness was found tied up, stripped, and sitting in her own excreta in a Hyderabad rehab home, not much seems to have changed in Telangana, where the rights of people with psycho-social disabilities are concerned. While a State Mental Health Authority was set up hastily in February this year, it was only done in response to a summons from the National Human Rights Commission on the issue, and was not properly set up, alleges a human rights activist who has been following the case.
A reply from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) earlier this month, to an activist asking for an update on this particular case, shows that the authorities in Telangana did not act until summons were issued to the state's Health Secretary. Even after the NHRC summons, only very little was done, says Vaishnavi Jayakumar, the human rights activist who received the reply.
It was in 2017 that a video from a Hyderabad home for the destitute, called 'Aramghar', showed Renuka, alias Rinku in a deplorable condition. In the video, Rinku even alleged that she was sexually assaulted by staff of the home.
"The Women and Child Welfare Department (WCD) inspection report was completed in 24 hours from when the inspection team was deputed, and submitted on June 3, 2017. Despite this promising speedy start, subsequently, there seems to have been no action by either the WCD, Health, Disability Commissioner or Social Welfare departments, till the NHRC summons was filed against the health secretary," Vaishnavi said in her observations, in response to the NHRC reply.
Stating that the "delay and lack of responsibility of the designated authority is unconscionable," Vaishnavi also told TNM, "Authorities seem to have hastily set up a State Mental Health Authority, one week before the summon date was due. It is clear that this has been a response to the summons, which is why something has happened; whatever little that may be."
Arguing that the Authority was set up in contravention of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, Vaishnavi, in her reply to the NHRC said, "Its very legality is questionable and requires urgent action. How can one half-set up a monitoring authority with ex-officio members in a government notification stating that other members will be added in due course?"
"Even if we consider the action taken report from the Health Department, they could have very easily done the same in June 2017 itself. What is statutory itself is not being done," Vaishnavi tells TNM.
While Rinku has now returned home to Bihar and is with her family members, thanks to intervention by the Telangana State Legal Services Authority, which had acted suo motu and single handedly reintegrated her, larger questions still persist.
"Has justice been done? There is a big question mark about the alleged sexual abuse that Rinku faced. There are no answers to that, and no information is available about measures taken to prevent such incidents, if any. How many such women could be out there right now and what is the government doing to address that?" Vaishnavi asks.
Contending that it was premature to close the case, Vaishnavi told the NHRC, "I am not reassured by the Telangana Health Secretary’s statement that ‘the Telangana Government is committed to provide mental healthcare services for persons with mental illness and to protect and fulfil the rights of such persons so that the much deserved human rights, especially to live with dignity and social inclusion are ensured.’ While they are fine sentiments, I am unable to concur with the statement – and not merely due to the inaction in this particular case."
She also pointed out that the Telangana government, even post February 2019, was not in compliance with data and reports ordered by the Supreme Court in connection with a roadmap for rehabilitation of persons (who were fit and fine after recovering from a mental illness) living in government-run mental hospitals in India.