London: Vidya was alone at home in Mumbai when three people posing as government health workers knocked on her door.
After convincing the 45-year-old to let them in, they forcibly sedated her and took her away. She woke up in a private mental hospital with barbed wire on the windows, where she was medicated against her will and forced to undergo electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
“I was like a vegetable,” Vidya said.
She told Human Rights Watch (HRW) that her husband had her admitted because he wanted to divorce her on grounds of cruelty and “mental illness”.
Women and girls with disabilities in India are routinely locked away in mental hospitals and institutions where they face abuse, overcrowding, filthy conditions and medical treatment against their will, the human rights watchdog said on Wednesday.
“Women and girls with disabilities are dumped in institutions by their family members or police in part because the government is failing to provide appropriate support and services,” HRW researcher Kriti Sharma said in a statement.
“And once they’re locked up, their lives are often rife with isolation, fear, and abuse, with no hope of escape.”
At least 70 million Indians live with psychosocial disabilities like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and more than 1.5 million have intellectual disabilities such as Downs Syndrome.
Yet only 0.06% of the country’s health budget is spent on mental health, HRW said in a report titled “Treated worse than animals”.
It said there are only 43 state-run mental hospitals and three psychiatrists and 0.47 psychologists per million people in India, a country of around 1.2 billion people.
The lack of mental health services is acute in rural areas where seven out of 10 Indians live but where only 25% of the health infrastructure is located, it said.
The report was based on research in six cities—New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore and Mysore—and more than 200 interviews with disabled women and girls, their families, mental health professionals, government officials and police.
HRW said physical and verbal abuse was an every day occurrence in every state-run institution or mental hospital its researchers visited.
It also uncovered instances of sexual assault and exploitation, which it said were rarely reported by victims for fear of the repercussions.
A welfare officer at a residential care institution for women told HRW of women who had gone to a mental hospital for three months and come back one month pregnant.
“It’s happened in a lot of cases but when the woman can’t say who got her pregnant, what can we do?” the source was quoted as saying. Reuters