Hazrath Sailani Baba Dargah in Buldhana: A part of India where mental-illness is deeply misunderstood

There are a few other such dargahs in India, like the Dargah of Hazrat Munawwar Ali Shah Baba in Allahabad and the Dargah of Hazrat Sultan Syed Ibrahim Shaheed in Erwadi in Tamil Nadu, where the mentally ill — a condition apparently caused by the influence of evil spirits — are brought, chained and beaten.

FP Staff June 07, 2017 10:00:17 IST

The village of Sailani in the Buldhana district of Maharashtra is deceivingly normal on the surface — few eateries, couple of medical shops and clinics, cassette shops, bus and auto services and so on. The village and most of these shops are named ‘Sailani’ after a Muslim Saint — Sailani Baba.

At the centre of the village, is a dargah dedicated to the Baba, it is reputed for its healing powers, particularly for those suffering from mental illnesses. The belief in Baba’s powers is so strong that his followers seldom seek medical help. And for residents, the sight of chained people or the mentally ill roaming about the village, is commonplace.

There are a few other such dargahs in India, like the Dargah of Hazrat Munawwar Ali Shah Baba in Allahabad and the Dargah of Hazrat Sultan Syed Ibrahim Shaheed in Erwadi in Tamil Nadu, where the mentally ill — a condition apparently caused by the influence of evil spirits — are brought, chained and beaten.

In Sailani, this practice has been normalized over decades. The village sarpanch, Shankar Tarmade noted that people from all religions visit the dargah from across the country, and the locals extolled the virtues of the shrine.

The revenue from the dargah is not used for the welfare of the followers, or for the development of the village. Those who cannot afford hotel rooms, are forced to live in temporary tents near the dargah or in the open. In the absence of toilet facilities most of the visitors defecate in the open. A Pune based businessman has arranged facilities for food for the believers. He also runs a medical clinic which treats the patients for free. However the doctor at the clinic remarked that most of them do not visit the clinic but hope for the Baba to cure them.

Though the government is fighting a legal battle with the Trust over the revenue of the dargah, there has been no intervention from either to improve the living conditions of the visitors, or any measures taken to provide medical care for them.

Lawyer and expert in the field of human rights Deya Bhattacharya said, "For starters, it violates Article 21 (Right to Life and Dignity) of the Indian Constitution. Since India has no laws pertaining to torture, torture is also covered under this article. Additionally, there is a contravention of the Right to Free and Compulsory Elementary Education for all children in the six to 14 years age group (Article 21 A), the Right to be protected from any hazardous employment till the age of 14 years (Article 24), the Right to be protected from being abused and forced by economic necessity to enter occupations unsuited to their age or strength (Article 39e), the Right to Equal Opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and guaranteed protection of childhood and youth against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment (Article 39f), the Right to Early Childhood Care and education to all children until they complete the age of six years (Article 45)​."

But that's not all. According to Bhattacharya, this sort of treatment also violates the Right to Equality (Article 14), the Right against Discrimination (Article 15), the Right to Personal Liberty and Due Process of Law (Article 21), the Right to being protected from being trafficked and forced into bonded labour (Article 23), the Right of minorities for protection of their interests (Article 29), the Right of weaker sections of the people to be protected from social injustice and all forms of exploitation (Article 46) and the Right to Nutrition and standard of living and improved public health​ (Article 47). Further, she added, "This is also a violation of Section 322 of the Indian Penal Code that refers to voluntarily causing grievous hurt."

Lawyer and constitutional law expert Ajay Kumar pointed out, "Merely because a person is mentally ill does not mean they can be deprived of their civil rights. It is unlawful to restrain them by chaining them and it is also unlawful to assault them by beating them. Persons doing so can be prosecuted under various provisions of the IPC. Further, since they are running an ostensible 'mental health establishment' without due registration, they also fall foul of the new Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 and can be punished for contravening it."

As per the human rights commission’s (NHRC) directives of 2001, States and Union Territories have to certify that no mentally ill patients are chained or kept in captivity. The NHRC report also points that there are nearly 8 million mentally ill patients in Maharashtra and only 8,170 hospital beds available for them. This, however, is the highest number of beds available in any state in India.

The skewed development of the healthcare sector, doesn’t factor in the rural population or the poor. With little to no medical help, lack of awareness about mental health and, socio-economic conditions, the mentally ill are left to grieve on the streets and in the shadows of religious beliefs.

 

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