Sunday, October 19, 2008

Monsters in the Mind

Since wars begin in the minds of men…, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” – So begins the loftily worded preamble of UNESCO in defence of its mandate to further the cause of education and culture around the world. And perhaps justifiably so…. any one who has read the latest India Today issue peeping into the minds of terrorists, Zia ur Rehman, Sauquib and Muhammad Shakeel can find it to be quite a terrifying read.

The three are a chilling example indeed of how war or terror – whatever be its ultimate expression does indeed begin in the minds of humans. But the worrying thing is that the armaments necessary for such a battle are not readily available in the country and so this decisive battlefield may be getting conceded by default. If the mind is the decisive battlefield where things happen, then some attention needs to be paid to the mind of the Indian people and its health.

But what has the mnd got to do with rising fanaticism and one of the most visible manifestation of which is terror ? has got to do with the matter of terrorism, you might ask. Well look at this : According to a study on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in children and adolescents affected by the communal violence in Gujarat, conducted in February 2006 by mental health professionals belonging to the Psychiatry Department of B J Medical College and Civil Hospital, Ahmedabad, close to five percent of the 255 interviewed showed signs of the disorder even four years after the riots; 9.4 per cent suffered from depression.

The genesis of the study in itself points to a problem that has up till now been more or less ignored. According to Dr G K Vankar, head of the psychiatry department at the Civil Hospital and the principal author of the study, the research was done on the request of the non-government organisation Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). The organisation’s staff, who works with the riot-affected, felt that several children had become “rebellious”, says Vankar. “The children were not obeying their mothers, they were not studying,” he adds.

How far of a journey is from the pain and the traumatic scars of the riots to the jihadi uncovered by India Today? Not very long it would seem “We’re all equals in the jihad for Allah, but I was associated longer with the Allah ke bande (men of God). He was happy with the way things were happening. A handful of Allah ke bande were able to paralyse the economic life of such a big country by targeting metros and nothing much could be done about it. We gave back what we were getting from them,” Shakeel says.

Could we have done any thing to retard the spread of hatred and fanaticism ? May be , if you see that a lot of indoctrintation and brain washing happens in a context where the mind is often unble to make discerning judgements and think for itself, allowing one to implant alien ideas and giving them a welcoming home

If we consider that nearly two third of persons with known mental disorders never seek help from health professionals, that is a large number. Most others utilize the services of other agencies and resort to harmful practices and keep on visiting faith healers and delay the treatment till the condition deteriorates which compels them to seek the treatment from established institutions. Stigma, discrimination and neglect prevent care and treatment reaching people.

7 percent of Indians, or around 7 crore people, suffer from mental disorder in one or the other form, but the healthcare facilities are woefully inadequate. Describing the situation as serious rights issue, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has taken up the matter with the Medical Council of India (MCI).

Well with psychiatric conditions and mental illnesses slowly creeping up the statistical ladder, it is good that that the Human Rights Commission is taking cognizance of the fact. One only hopes that it will do more than talk to the generally somnolent Medical Council and find some more active players to take note of this monster in the mind.

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