The first was of course the resolution requiring its member states to put into effect systems that would bring to an end the institutionalized discrimination that the homosexuals and transgenders have to endure. With Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code being still operational, India abstained from taking any position which has lead to a fierce debate.
My own view is that Section 377 is an archaic piece of legislation which has long outlived its utility. To require two legally consenting adults to adopt a certain lifestyle and comprehensively reject the other strictly on moral grounds is somehow not compatible with the 21st century democratic aspirations.
Even a conservative institution like the Pope has taken a refreshingly enlightened view;while note approving of the practice he has deprecated the discrimination the community has had to to endure for centuries.The UN Human Rights Council deserves to be warmly complemented.
Even more noteworthy was the second resolution they passed. Led by Portugal and Brazil and co-sponsored by 61 other countries , on 1st of July 2016, it adopted a Resolution on Human Rights which ,as Dr.Michele Funk of the Who states in her letter to myself, highlights:
that “persons with mental health conditions or psychosocial disabilities, in particular persons using
mental health services, may be subject
to, inter alia, widespread discrimination, stigma, prejudice, violence, social exclusion and
segregation, unlawful or arbitrary institutionalization, over-medicalization and treatment practices
that fail to respect their autonomy, will and preferences”
“the need for States to take active steps to fully integrate a human rights perspective into mental
health and community services, particularly with a view to eliminating all forms of violence
and discrimination within that context, and to promote the right of everyone to full inclusion and
effective participation in society”This resolution provides additional impetus to address human rights in mental health and also signals a
commitment by countries to achieve this.
Readers who follow my columns here and elsewhere may recall several articles I had penned about the denial of human rights to the mentally ill in India. I had not long ago published an open letter to the Prime Minister in which I had expressed serious concern about the mentally ill who are languishing in prisons in India and the non-application of the mens rea that was taking place by overlooking the provision for insanity defense which exists on our statutes.
As a psychiatrist of over 35 years standing -and also a qualified barrister and holder of LL M from Harvard in Mental Health Legislation- I considered this a matter of shame for all of us.The stark difference between the campaigns for the human rights of the homosexuals and trans-genders and for those of the mentally ill is the absence of a lobby for the latter. Mentally ill do not have a voice to speak on their behalf and as they do not constitute a vote bank, the politicians have never shown any real enthusiasm to take a position on the matter.
I personally felt that given the magnitude and gravity of the problem , we do need to consider appointing a Mental Health Ombudsman -a figure with an expertise in both medical as well as the legal dimensions of mental health vested with statutory powers. And as the problem is truly international, I also am a firm believer that we should request the UN Secretary General to consider appointing a Special Rapporteur for Mental Health.
I was most relieved when I received a letter from Prof.Bhugra,the current president of the World Psychiatric Association who advised me that given the magnitude of the problem ,he had constituted a Presidential Task Force to look into the presence of mentally ill in the prisons and very kindly asked me to join this group.
It was therefore a matter of immense satisfaction for all those like myself who had campaigned for the rights of the mentally ill that this resolution has been adopted. Personally I would have liked India to take a lead but am more than content that through this development, the rights of mentally ill are firmly on the international agenda.
As I had stated in one of my earlier columns, my earnest desire is to see all the mentally ill being released from the prisons in my own lifetime!And through this column I should like to enroll the support of my colleagues in this venture.
By Dr.Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad