With her head resting in her grandmother’s lap, nine-year-old Iqra makes unsuccessful attempts to sleep. She is in trauma and her body burns with fever. Twenty five days back, this deaf, dumb and mentally challenged girl skipped her mother’s gaze and left her home for nowhere. Today she is back and loaded with dreadful memories.
After two days of wandering, Iqra reached Baramulla where local people handed her over to police. For 20 days, police in Kreeri used every medium to trace the parents of the girl. Nobody came forward while the police struggled to take care of girl child in absence of a woman constable. On March 8, Iqra was brought by Kreeri police to the valley’s lone psychiatric hospital with a reception order from executive magistrate that the girl should be treated in the hospital.
The hospital authorities, however, were bound by a separate set of rules. Indian Mental Health Act of 1987 lays down that a minor can’t be admitted in hospital even against a judicial reception order. If the patient is really in need of it, he/she can be admitted only if a caretaker accompanies.
The order was not accepted.
“This is not a jail where we can keep dangerous people locked. Here mentally challenged patients roam freely in the square. They usually get violent and there can be any fatal attack on the minor. How can we admit children that too without any care taker? And this is a hospital where patients are treated, not a rehabilitation centre where they can live,” says HoD and medical superintendent of hospital, Dr Hamidullah Shah.
“And this is not a dumping site. We too are governed by some laws,” he adds.
Patients like Iqra need a special treatment that is possible only in juvenile homes. But Kashmir has no juvenile home despite rapidly changing social conditions.
“Earlier family system in Kashmir was an extended one. But now families have become nuclear and in most cases, both parents go for work. So little time is left for taking care of children,” says Dr. Arshad Hussain. “In cases like Iqra, familial care is essential as the child can loose its life if it goes astray. That is where juvenile homes step in to take care of the child and also aid his development through a rehabilitation process. ”
The rehabilitation process in such homes takes care of conduct and social disorders of such patients – a process that can not be carried out at psychiatric hospital. Here, child psychologists work with mentally challenged children of up to 18 years of age.
Emphasizing the need for such a home, Dr Hussain says, “Lot of money is unnecessarily spent by the social welfare department on providing stipend to such children. Rs 300 per month for a child with profound mental retardation do not help mitigate his illness. This is a subsidizing system which we have got used to. We have to build institutions so that patients are treated, not kept in the same state.”
In Iqra’s case, hospital authorities wrote a letter to the magistrate. It reads that the girl can be treated in the hospital on humanitarian grounds only if the police provide a constable as a care taker.
On March 10, police sent a constable and the treatment of girl started. But the constable abandoned the girl very next morning and took along the executive magistrate’s order.
Worried, the hospital authorities wrote to IGP and SHO for recruiting a caretaker. They assured that the girl will be admitted to any deaf and dumb school. For three days, however, nobody came. On March 12, parents of the girl somehow came to know and took the girl home.
But Iqra’s ordeal does not end here. Psychiatrists say that patients like Iqra are trainable and educable and can go into professional courses provided kept in residential homes where training and rehabilitation is provided together. In these homes, psychiatrists say, specific children issues other than those of general psychiatric problems are dealt.
But Iqra was sent back home. While Iqra’s mother Shahzada narrates her ordeal, Iqra’s two younger brothers Junaid and Suhail throw utensils on each other. “They cannot hear this noise,” their mother confides. Like their sister, both of them are deaf, dumb and mentally challenged. Shahzada was thrown out of her husband’s home by her in-laws. “My mother-in-law would call my children an insult but my husband stood by me and we shifted to my father’s place,” she says. Shahzada now lives with her 70-year-old paralytic mother and two brothers – one of them a schizophrenic. Her husband Nazir Ahmad Dagga is a labourer. Poverty and misfortune has left the family shattered.
“When my husband comes back in the evening we either fight or cry over our fate.” Shahzada says with a sigh.
The couple is very disappointed with the government. Though they cannot claim employment and scholarships for their children, they want government to come up with proper plan of rehabilitation for such children.
And Iqra is not an exceptional case that the psychiatric hospital has received. “We had a girl from UP in the hospital whose family we had to trace with the help of the police. The parents had died while the uncle had shifted to another area of the city,” says Dr Arshad Hussain. “The problem is that government is not disassociating juvenile home from psychiatry.”
Though there is a Composite Rehabilitation Centre (CRC) established in Srinagar, it has no residential facility. The centre is headed by an ophthalmologist instead of a person with specialization in rehabilitation.
Today Iqra is home. Her grandmother’s fingers are crossing her long grown cluttered hair. What would have been the fate of the girl if her parents wouldn’t have come? Everyone fails to answer.
Police has its own limitations. “Their job is to transport the patient to the right place. But there has to be a right place where police would take the patient,” says Dr Hussain.