We as a society have no qualms about making jokes on Oolampara - or NIMHANS or Kilpauk or Agra.

Calling MM Mani crazy to hit out at his mental asylum statement makes us no better than himCourtesy: www.mmmani.com
Voices Opinion Sunday, April 23, 2017 - 11:46

“Lock him up in a mental asylum for razing down a Christian cross!”

“Oh no! YOU should be chained up because YOU’RE the one who’s mentally unstable!”

Kerala Electricity Minister MM Mani’s statement about Devikulam sub-Collector Sriram was insensitive and outrageous. But while the reactions to his statement have caught on to the ‘outrage’ part, the people now slamming MM Mani are using the same language as the Minister: Flippant about mental illness, and quick to brand it as something that deserves ‘locking up’, ‘chaining up’, and our collective disgust.

Let’s recap a little here: MM Mani, a CPI(M) leader and a Minister in the Kerala Cabinet, is angry with the Devikulam sub-Collector for going on an anti-encroachment drive in Munnar, and razing down a Christian cross on encroached land in the process. He was so angry, that he said the sub-Collector, Sriram, should be ‘sent to a mental asylum’.

Because only a ‘crazy person’ would raze down a religious symbol, apparently. Because someone doing something Mani doesn’t like automatically means they’re ‘mad’. Because a person with mental illness, according to Mani, is supposed to be locked up in an asylum.

Mani’s statement came on a day that his government got several pats on the back for opening depression clinics for women in a government hospital - a progressive step that deserves to be appreciated no doubt. In fact, the Kerala Health Minister K K Shylaja announced that such clinics will be opened in 170 primary health centres to nurture a healthy generation without depression.

Her Cabinet colleague, however, seems to have missed the memo on being progressive about mental health. While some part of the Kerala government at least seems to understand that persons with mental illness need care, from an understanding family and society set up, Mani clearly does not belong to that part.

Mani’s statement reeks of a juvenile mindset that sees mental illness as something evil, incurable, and deserving of mockery and isolation.

Read: The World Health Minute: India’s mental health crisis can no longer be ignored

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the reactions that he has been getting is equally bad, if not worse. And the reason is simple: We as a society have no qualms about making jokes on Oolampara - or NIMHANS or Kilpauk or Agra. We only have a problem when those jokes are made against us, the people we like, or our politics.

So when a commentator says of Mani - "It is not Sriram, but MM Mani, who is misusing his power, who should be sent to Oolampara!" - all irony is lost.

When a Facebook warrior says - “Someone should either stuff cloth in this fellow's mouth or send him off to Oolampara” - they don’t even realise why what Mani said was problematic, and why what they’re saying is problematic too.

When the Kerala Youth Congress retaliates to Mani saying he should be chained up because he’s ‘lost his mental balance’ - it shows that their opposition is purely political, and exactly as insensitive.

Mani’s comments were disgusting - not only because he slammed a bureaucrat doing his job, but also because of his choice of words while doing so. And unless we understand that, unless we stop trivialising mental illness and mental asylums in our discourse - public and private - there’s no point is being angry with Mani alone.

Also read: I'm a suicide survivor, and when you talk about Arjun Bhardwaj, you’re talking to me

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