The rights of mentally ill patients have always been a reason for controversy in India. There are number of cases that have been reported where a mentally ill patient has been treated like an animal. The Erawadi fire incident took place in 2001. Since then, there is hardly any improvement made in the domain of mental health services. Detaining patients without their consent has been the most common practice by hospitals in various societies. The Constitution of India guarantees several other rights to the mentally ill patients along with the Fundamental Rights. One of the Fundamental Rights guaranteed is the Right to Life for all citizens of India. As per this right, each individual is entitled to live life with dignity and to have access to all basic needs that is food, shelter, and clothing with access to health care. The second Fundamental Right is, the right to equality. As per this right, every citizen of India is treated equally and has an equal chance of employment and equal opportunity to fair treatment.

The origin of Mental Healthcare laws in India can be traced back to the British era. The first Act that was passed in India was The Indian Lunacy Act, 1912 which was repealed on the grounds of violation of human rights. This Act gave recognition to mental asylums and under this Act people who were suffering from mental health issues were detained. After this Mental Health Act, 1987 was passed. This Act revolutionized the mental health domain in India by focusing on the cure aspect for illness rather than keeping away patients from society. Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 focuses on providing mental health services to all, supported accommodation, rehabilitation, right to live in community, protection against degrading inhumane treatments, right to complain when the services are inadequate and other legal remedies. In cases where the patient has been abandoned by the family, it is on the Government to provide for shelter and other necessary facilities. Further, a mentally ill patient should be protected from inhumane treatment and should be provided with a hygienic and safe environment. This law’s roots lie in Article 21 of The Indian Constitution.

According to National Mental Health Survey 2015-16, approximately 7.5 percent of Indian population is suffering from some or the other mental disorder. Where One in every twenty Indians suffer from most common mood disorder that is Depression. In India the treatment gap between people who are psychologically suffering and those having access to health care system, is approximately 70 percent. Despite several legislations, condition of mental institutes and patients has still not improved. There is huge gap between Laws and their implementation in treating patients. The relation between mental health and human rights can be divided into several parts. First, human rights violations, such as displacement and torture, negatively affect mental health. Second, coercive treatment practices of mental health patients can impact the human rights.

The case of 48 mental patients burnt to death in Tamil Naidu raised a lot of questions towards mental health facilities. The patients who died were tied to their beds and were being treated for mental health disorders under the pretext of supernatural remedy rather than medical treatment. In India it is a common practice wherein people behaving abnormally are taken to temples or dargahs for treatment. One of the very famous temples that deal with this is in Rajasthan known as Mehendipur Balaji Temple where patients are chained and kept in appalling conditions violating their very basic right i.e. Right to Life.

People in India are scared of mentally ill patients and tend to maintain distance from them and in many cases, families abandon the member who is mentally unstable. In 2019, The Supreme Court ruled chaining of mental patients is not only inhumane but also a violation of their Fundamental Rights. In a mental asylum in Badaun District in Uttar Pradesh, there were patients tied with padlocks suffering from psychological disorders. The Supreme Court of India ruled that even in cases where patients are violent, they still cannot be held in shackles. This is not the only case where hospitals have tied violent patients. There are many institutions where patients are kept in one room with no ventilation or access to sunlight.

There are several laws to protect people suffering from mental health issues but there is a huge gap between what is on paper and what is in practice. Even though after repeated recommendations by doctors and policy makers, implementation of policies has been an issue. There are several real challenges that need to be tackled in order to implement recommended steps. These challenges could be: Most of the mental health resources are available in city areas or near metropolitan cities. Due to this people living in rural area have no access to services and the cost of transportation makes it difficult for rural people to avail help. Majority of Indians believe that mental illness is caused by evil spirits or due to their bad karma. Due to this people take family members suffering from psychotic breakdown to temples and other religious places. This causes delay in treatment or no treatment at all. Many people are ignorant towards mental health and many have stigmatized mental health disorders. Stigma plays a huge role in delayed treatment of disorders.

If laws are implemented properly there could be a drastic change in India’s mental health paradigm. Sensitizing people would also play an important role in the development of mental health. If we treat patients with love and care their recovery rate can be better. In the end, I would like to say that mental patients are not a danger to society, with proper care we can empower them.