Nearly five months after the death of Anjana Harish, a queer student from Kerala, a writ petition has been filed at the Kerala High Court, seeking a ban on the practice of ‘conversion therapy’ on LGBTQIA+ persons by mental health practitioners in the state. It was conversion therapy – an illegal pseudoscience practice that claims to ‘cure’ queer persons -- that allegedly led to the death by suicide of Anjana in May. The petition seeking ban of this inhuman practice was filed by Queerala, an organisation based in Kerala for the welfare of LGBTQIA+ people, and Raghav, trans activist and board member of Malayalee Transmen Association (MATA).
The High Court will have a hearing of the matter on October 28.
“We had submitted a complaint to the Kerala State Mental Health Authority to look into this matter of mental health service providers practicising conversion therapy. A copy was also sent to the Health Secretary,” says Rajashree Raju, board member of Queerala. However, there has been no response so far.
What triggered the petition now is the number of conversion therapies that have been reported during the lockdown that began with the coronavirus pandemic in March. In the months that followed, queer people across the state were stuck at home with parents who did not accept them and took them to mental health practitioners.
“We got several complaints in these months. One young woman told us how her parents forced her to see a doctor who asked to admit her at the hospital so that tests can be run on her to see if her internal organs ‘are working’ and medicines can be administered on her. Another bisexual woman spoke of a psychiatrist who prescribed medicines for schizophrenia for her. She was well aware of the situation and spoke of the Indian Psychiatric Society (Kerala) releasing a statement about conversion therapy - on how 'any attempt to treat a person to change sexual orientation or gender identity is unjustifiable and illegal'. The doctor then told her in a derogatory manner not to teach him and that he was talking ‘science’ while she was just stating her opinion,” Rajashree says.
Yet another woman had a breakdown after being ‘counselled’ by a mental health practitioner. She had realised she was a lesbian after attending a session by Queerala and went to see a counsellor who gave her medicines. “She was already depressed and this just broke her down. Every time such a case arises, we ask doctors at the IPS to intervene, and they do. When they call these psychiatrists and psychologists who claim to 'cure' queer people, they deny practicing it. But it is not practical to make these interventions every time. There has to be a concrete solution and we need legal action. That’s why we have approached the court now,” Rajashree says.