Women who seek divorce are being labelled 'mad' and institutionalised

With immense shame and stigma associated with divorce in India, different pressure tactics are employed to compel women to stay back in marriages including forced institutionalisation at mental health centres.
Representative silhouette of a woman
Representative silhouette of a womanPicxy/DREAMWORKS
Written by:
Edited by:

All that Ramlath* remembers from that traumatic night at her parents’ house in 2017 is a needle pricking into her body as a few people gathered around the bed. When she gained consciousness, she found herself in the mental health ward of a private hospital in Kerala’s Kochi. She kept calling for help, trying to reach out to friends, but she says she was kept sedated, worn down by medication in an isolation ward. It was only two weeks later that they let her leave, upon one condition – that she would forgo her decision to divorce her husband. “My parents and the doctor put me through severe mental health medication simply because I wanted a divorce and they thought this could make me fall in line,” 31-year-old Ramlath, who is now divorced, tells TNM.

In India, there is immense shame associated with divorce, and women find themselves in unending conflict with family and society when they decide to end their marriage. While different pressure tactics are employed to compel women to stay back in marriages, many women like Ramlath are labelled mentally ill, forcibly drugged, and put through humiliating ‘treatments’ to either ‘discipline’ them into staying married, or to forge medical evidence discrediting their complaints of domestic violence against their husbands and families. 

This happens in obvious collusion between doctors and medical staff with the husbands and families of women to make sure that the ‘shame of divorce’ does not befall them. 

Psychiatric treatments to dissuade women from divorce

Suhana* also has a shockingly similar experience to that of Ramlath. She was married in 2010 to her now ex-husband. “My husband was absent from the relationship. He wasn’t affectionate or cognisant of our financial needs, and he refused to give me a divorce because then he would have to pay back the money my parents ‘gifted’ him before marriage. But when it got too much, I walked out of his house and started living by myself. My father used to visit me and everybody wanted me to drop the divorce case. But one time, he brought four people in scrubs with him and they forcefully injected me with something. I woke up at a private hospital in Kerala,” she recalls. 

Suhana says she then played it safe and pretended to agree to going back to her husband, which is when they let her leave, after two months of coercive medication and mental harassment. 

The experiences of both Ramlath and Suhana are almost identical, and while Ramlath says she did not have the energy to press charges before a court of law, Suhana filed a petition before the Kerala High Court asking for protection from her own family and her then-husband, citing that they were trying to “brand her as mentally ill” and “forcibly subject her to psychiatric treatment”. The HC also ordered that she be evaluated by a court-appointed medical board. “After evaluation, I was cleared by the board. Nonetheless, I have not yet received any records about what I was being treated for at the hospital,” she says.

Loading content, please wait...

Related Stories

No stories found.
The News Minute