In the last one week, political debate has centred around sending certain persons to traditional mental hospitals, which in insensitive language are called lunatic asylums. These days, certain old words have been sent to the recycle bin, never to be restored. Some examples are disabled (now called differently abled) and Harijan (now called Dalit). Recently, the use of the term ‘black money’ was objected to as having a racist tinge. In the immediate past, sending people to Oolampara (an old mental hospital in Thiruvananthpuram) has been a standard term, while giving vent to anger against someone. Those who replied also have displayed equal insensitivity by stating that the other person should be chained and treated.
Kerala’s pride is that it is a fully literate society with a progressive mindset. But this literacy is a waste, if it cannot bring sensitivity to those who are at a different level of mental realisation than what is considered as the normal or the median behaviour. Can’t we come out of the barbaric thinking associated with a feudal era when king was considered as God incarnate? During those days, caste oppression was common and inhuman punishments were the norm. Mental illness was considered a sin and the victims were tortured in the name of treatment. Many asylums continued with such dark ways till recently or do that even now. Why should we call people who have a different mental perception as insane in a mocking manner? Are they not at a different level of sanity? After all, who is perfectly sane and where is perfect sanity defined? It is only a question of some norms and adherence and deviations from them.
Kerala claims human development indicators at levels surpassing many developing countries. Unfortunately, mental health is not part of human development measurement. As a society taking pride in being pioneers in so many things, we have to develop a new attitude towards those who get psychotic or neurotic disorders. After all, mind is something which can be out of tune with the standard norm for anyone at any point of time. There needs to be a conscious effort to dissociate these from the age old stigma that goes with it.
What is mockingly called insanity is nothing but a different level of mental enablement. This is a reflection of our reactionary mind set steeped in a dark past. We need to shed it consciously. Just because only some are saying it openly, it does not mean that others are sensitised. They hide their feelings. Why not Kerala initiate the concept of Differently Mentally Abled and evolve a friendly treatment with modern facilities for them to come nearer to the social median? We have to come out of our contemptuous attitude towards Differently Mentally Abled or shed our image as a progressive society. We cannot have both.
–Writer is commentator on polity...