It was only last year that the Masina Hospital was censured by the Directorate of Health Services for rampant violations of the Mental Health Act, 1987. A complaint by a father-son duo has now opened a Pandora’s Box — of allegations of torture, intimidation and forcible detention at its psychiatric ward. Rito Paul takes a look
Time stands still for Rajiv Chatterjee*. It has for a year-and-a-half now. He hasn’t been able to put his six-day ordeal at the Masina Hospital’s psychiatric ward out of his mind.
It all started in September-October 2010 when his parents, who felt he was going through a difficult time and needed help, approached Masina Hospital to get the 25-year-old counselled.
But that, says Rajiv’s father Vivek Chatterjee, was “the biggest mistake”.
Rajiv was picked up from his home by seven to eight people on October 4 that year and taken to the hospital at Byculla in a van, along with his father. Once there, he was whisked away. Vivek, who was under the impression that Rajiv would meet a counsellor, had no idea that his son was going to be admitted. Dr AK Ghabrani, a counsellor at the hospital then told him that admission was mandatory for counselling.
“I was taken aback a little, but I didn’t know how counselling works. So, I agreed,” recalls Vivek. The next time Vivek saw Rajiv was six days later. But, the man facing him was a shadow of his son — dishevelled and completely distraught.
Vivek says he had heart-related problems at the time and didn’t have the energy to run around. But his wife visited the hospital the next day and she was told that she couldn’t meet her son.
“Another day, we were told we couldn’t meet Rajiv because he had developed conjunctivitis. We got really worried. At one point, we actually wondered if our son was in the hospital at all,” says the father.
Rajiv wishes that he wasn’t. He was going through his own nightmare at the hospital while his frantic parents felt more and more helpless by the day. He alleges that his arms and legs were tied to his bed in order to restrain him. While this was being done, he adds, a ward boy put pressure on the back of his neck with his knee, which resulted in internal bleeding in his eyes. They then allegedly injected him with a neuroleptic drug and left him to sleep.
His father eventually managed to contact one of the hospital’s trustees, at whose request he was allowed to meet Rajiv six days later. All this while, Rajiv’s pleas to meet his parents had fallen on deaf ears. “As soon as I saw him, I started to cry; such was his state. I immediately marched into the office of Dr Matcheswalla (head of the department of psychiatry at the Masina Hospital) and demanded that he set my son free,” says Vivek.
The father-son duo have now filed a complaint against certain doctors and counsellors of the hospital’s psychiatric ward with the Byculla police station, alleging torture, intimidation and forcible detention.
The Masina Hospital’s psychiatry ward is no stranger to accusations of malpractice. In January last year, a five-member committee of experts, appointed by the Directorate of Health Services (DHS) had censured the hospital for violations of the Mental Health Act, 1987. A report filed by them stated that the hospital had been illegally detaining patients in its psychiatry ward and forcefully administering psychotropic drugs to them. Dr Sanjay Kumavat, chairperson of the DHS committee, says after the report was filed, Masina Hospital replied saying it would comply with all its suggestions. But since then, there has been no follow-up visit.
The alleged free hand the psychiatric ward enjoys has scarred many. What Rajiv saw in the five days after his admission to the ward still gives him anxiety attacks. “I saw people being carried into the electro-shock chamber, and being taken out like sacks of potatoes and dumped on their beds. One man protested against the therapy one morning. The ward boys assaulted him and dragged him to the shock therapy room. I saw an old gentleman being locked up in a small closet and the ward boys enjoying themselves at his misery.”
Rajiv isn’t alone. Sunaina Handa’s* 24-year-old son suffered from career-related anxieties late in 2010. So, she took her son to the hospital for counselling. There, she alleges, Dr Matcheswalla told her that he planned to administer electro-shock therapy to her son. “I was shocked. I told him that under no condition should he administer such a treatment to my son. He tried to convince me that electro-shock therapy is the best way to help people suffering from anxiety attacks and that it was the latest treatment. I was aghast. The very next day, I got my son out of the hospital.”
Though electro-shock therapy is a controversial treatment (there have been worldwide calls to ban it), it is not banned in India. Dr Kersi Chavda, consulting psychiatrist at Hinduja Hospital, clarifies that electro-shock therapy is “used only in extreme cases”. He adds, “If a patient is very excited or aggressive or is seriously considering committing suicide, this therapy is often used to gain control over him/her.”
But, according to several people who were admitted to Masina Hospital’s psychiatric ward, electro-shock therapy is used there to coerce compliance.
Forty-year-old Sunil Advani spent just one night at the psychiatric ward in December 2010. His experience still sends shivers down his spine. “I admitted myself [to the psychiatric ward] because I used to have a drinking problem. I imagined it would be akin to being at a rehabilitation centre.” Reality hit him like a bolt of lightning. “The place was worse than a prison and dirtier than a public toilet. The staff behaved very badly with patients and I was threatened with electro-shock therapy if I didn’t obey their commands. My personal belongings were taken away.”
Luckily, Advani’s octogenarian father came to visit him the next day. “The hospital staff tried its best not to let him see me. They even misbehaved with him. I had the presence of mind to shout out to him from behind the bars. Once my father saw the state I was in, he got me out of the place.”
Others haven’t been as fortunate. “As I was leaving, a man I had talked to came to me and gave me a chit of paper with a phone number asking me to get in touch with his family. Unfortunately, a nurse saw the chit and confiscated it,” says Advani.
So, why did the Chatterjees wait this long to file a police complaint? Vivek says Rajiv and the family were so traumatised by the incident that they wanted to put it all behind them. “But as time passed, I saw that my son was not able to forget what had happened to him in there and move on. He still gets anxiety attacks and nightmares. His depression hasn’t abated. So, I finally decided to do something about it. Also, I realised that there are many patients in there today who are going through the same torture my son was put through. I want to help them.”
(*Names have been changed upon request)