Valson Thampu and Swami Agnivesh

While social activists were still digging deep into the traditional dictionary words that could at least "describe"(if not stir up your national conscience),the gruesome tragedy of the death of the mentally-challenged and pre-dawn devastating fire in an asylum-attached to a place of worship in Ervadi (Tamil Nadu) on August 6 and another bold Patiala-based journalist, Jangveer Singh had exposed the inhuman treatment to the inmates of an "ashrama'-All India Pingalwara Asharama, at Sanuar, about four kms from Patiala, the home town of the PPCC President, Amrinder Singh, a scion of the Patiala's erstwhile royal family.

According to the Patiala incident report, scores of mentally challenged inmates of the Pingalwara, including women, had been chained in the open for years and many others were locked in dark dingy rooms.

According to Jangveer Singh's report based in a sewadar's version-"most women of the Pingalwara Ashram rarely ever see light of the day with workers cleaning them during morning ablutions and feeding them in the room itself. The men have only stars for company and severely mentally challenged remain in the open in the night also. A spell of rain is also not enough to take them indoors."

Pointing out to Kala, one of chained inmates, the sewaradar' said the man had been in the ashram for five years. Others have been there for periods ranging from one to two years. In all, there are 9 to 10 inmates who are still chained in the open. A similar number of women have been lodged in a 10 ft by 12 ft room.

In the winters, the Pingalwara inmates are chained to their iron beds. Their men are chained close to each other. The journalist claims to have seen one inmate prancing about absolutely naked waddling in the mud.

Surprisingly, the Sanaur Pingalwara is a "recognized institution".

 The Punjab finance Minister, Darshan Singh, during his recent visit to the village gave a grant of Rs. One lakh for this 'ashram' and laid the foundation-stone of an emergency wing and a dispenser. The chief minister, Prakash Singh too gave a similar grant during his "Sangat Darshan" visit to Sanaur, recently. The emergency wing and dispensary are yet to come up while the mentally-challenged inmates continue to live at the mercy of God in the most inhuman conditions.

Another sewadar confirms that sedatives are administered to the Pingalwara inmates to calm them whenever they create nuisance. But no doctors have ever prescribed these sedatives.

The Chairman of Punjab Human Rights Commission- Mr. V K Khanna, has promised to look into the matter. It is anybody's guess in today's Bharat Desh Hamara, if one can expect any action from our self-seeking insensitive politician whose sole object is to hanker after pelf and power! Our thick-skinned Parliamentarians, bureaucrats and even medical establishments run the affairs of Indian society of rich cultural heritage like a banana republic.

The question that one needs to ask is where has the compassion disappeared? What has happened to the lavishly worded Article 51-A of the Fundamental Duties enshrined in our constitution to treat every  living being with compassion and love. In India it is really a shame, that the people who love dogs and cats, wash them with particular shampoos and kiss them with affection, leave the unfortunately mentally(and even physically)challenged fellow citizens to remain in chains, most of the times in the premises of institutions officially acclaimed as religious bodies. We have changed the Indian Lunacy Act, 1912 into a Mental Health Act, 1987 which has n force since April 1, 1993. But as the happenings in  Eravadi, Agra, Ranchi, Bareilly, Shahdara, Chandranagar(near Kolkata), Delhi and now in Punjab, indicate, the high-sounding Mental Health Act,1987 and Article 51-A  of the Constitution have been dumped in the same gutter where similar laws have been found in their past.
In post-Nazi Germany and Europe after the Vietnam War, when thousands of people had to cope with acute schizophrenia, 'social psychology' was utilized to cure the malaise. In India, the land of Rishis,Maharishis,Mahatmas,Sadhus,Sanyasis,Shankracharyas,Hajis,Mullahs and Maulivis nothing of this sort has ever been imagined.

Dr A B Dutt, Superintendent of Duttanagar Mental Health Centre (WB)had long back legally affirmed that "nobody has the right to restrain the movement of mentally-challenged (unless they are declared dangerous). Detaining them was way beyond one’s imagination. Dr. Dutt adds only one out of five hundred such patients requires hospitalization. Though the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalitha has condemned the Eravadi incident. Tamil Nadu has had a sad history of pushing under the carpet, the recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). There are numerous such instances, such as Sultan Alayudeen Darga at Goipalayam (near Mudura) Report of late 90s.

It is time the NGOs put their heads together along with well-meaning religious heads of all faiths to cure this holy land off shames of treating human being worse that even mad dogs. We must change our apathy and medieval mindset. It is for us and for nobody else to expose these so-called asylums, mad houses or whatever epithet one decides to call these repositories of insanity.