Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Disabled and Discarded

There are an estimated 70 million disabled people in India. Mental illness is one of the least addressed.

Bangalore is a city of 10.3 million people is home to many of the world's leading hi-tech industries – Dell, Microsoft, Yahoo, Infosys, Capgemini. Every fourth employee of IT giants IBM, Oracle and Accenture is said to be in India and most are here. Bangalore now has more pubs than any other Indian city, some five million vehicles, dozens of designer shopping centres and top hotels. Ornate Hindu temples stand next to new ring-roads and flyovers, roadworks for the metro system. The disparity between the poverty and the wealth is striking.

There is nothing in the surrounding slums to hint at Bangalore's reputation as India's Silicon Valley.

Hasina, 35, is one of tens of thousands still living in the city's slums. Her husband earns 300 rupees (about £4.20) a week when he can find labouring work. Her son is 10 but she says he refuses to go to school. Some days he earns 20 rupees (about 28 pence) a day. They struggle to afford two meals a day. She sits in squalor, tormented by the voices that haunt her mind, conscious of some level of injustice but unaware that her home city is becoming so prosperous. "The doctor has refused to give her a medical certificate to allow her to draw a mental health pension because physically she's not disabled," says Selvi Armugam, her community social worker "She's been diagnosed with schizophrenia but it's always very difficult to get the mental health pension of 400 rupees (about £6) a month."

India has experienced rapid growth which still stands at about 8%, but there has been little significant reduction in poverty or hunger.

"In Bangalore, the prosperity is very much linked to IT and the service sector," says Chiranjib Sen, professor of economics at Azim Premji University in Bangalore. "These IT jobs are very well paid but there are few of them and the IT sector cannot integrate huge numbers of people. It is a magnet of growth but can be a great spreader of inequality. In many ways Bangalore is a make-believe modern city," Sen explains.

"Bangalore is one of India's most caste-ridden cities," says Prabhakaran Rajendra, an independent consultant and caste expert. "The slums are a reflection of the caste system. Caste is a social and political disability."

Although caste discrimination is illegal, biases remain in many areas.

Sagai Kalyani, 35, spends her days sitting on her bed in darkness in Djalli slum. Sagai is from the Dalit caste. Dalits, formerly known as "untouchables", are at the bottom of the Hindu caste system in India. They still face widespread suffering and segregation. She usually leaves the room only on Sundays when she attends church to pray for a cure. She starts crying when she mentions her family. "Sometimes there is not enough to eat," she says. "My brother earns about 200 rupees a day (about £2.80) when he can get work. Some days he doesn't find work. I still believe God could cure me in the future. I read my bible every day.Ten years ago I was taken to all the shrines and worship places," she says. "They believed I had been possessed by a devil and so I was beaten with a broomstick every day for a week to drive out the spirit. I thought I needed the treatment to drive it out but it made it worse. I used to hear voices. "

"Some 70-75% of people with a disability are from the lower castes," says Krishnapura Gopinath, programme director at Association of People with Disabilities. "The real causes may be malnutrition, poverty, poor healthcare and pregnancy care. The mindset of people – whether literate or illiterate – is that mental disabilities are some kind of evil curse that has got into the body. Some still think that of physical disabilities, too. There are many superstitious beliefs and so few psychiatrists."


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