by Akshara Srivastava, Bharat Sharma
Chennai, Feb 22: The Institute of Mental Health (IMH) in Kilpauk is slowly inducting its patients into the Voters List before the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. With assistance from Disability Rights Alliance (DRA), they have enrolled more than 129 people as of now, including 62 men and 67 women.
Most government schemes and services can only be availed with a valid proof of identity. In lieu of this, the Institute intends to extend access to formal documentation to people with mental illnesses. This will include getting them Aadhar cards.
This is the Institute’s first initiative that involves patient participation. “This is the most progressive step we’ve ever taken… our society has never fully accepted mentally ill people as our own”, said Poorna Chandrika, Director of the institute.
Most of their patients were destitute or abandoned by their families. Owing to this, there are no documents proving their citizenship.
After screening their 900 patients, they figured out that 150-160 of them are mentally equipped to make a rational decision while casting their vote. According to D. Sumethi, Head of Voters Department and Social Welfare Officer at IMH, the voter patients are those who have been in recovery for a long time and continue to show signs of improvement.
“Only the improved patients will vote this time… We have many patients who have shown significant improvement over years. We’re starting with them”, she said.
Equipping patients with the right to vote is not enough. Awareness about politics is intrinsic to exercising one’s right responsibly. “We’re teaching them our political scenario and the history of Indian politics to help them choose their leaders wisely”, said D. Sumethi.
Out of the 129 people who have been enrolled until now, six are patients with a history of crime. According to her, their improvement warrants inclusion in the list.
Besides this, all patients have access to television and regularly watch the news. “Someone will read the newspaper to them in the recreational hall so they can understand clearly”, added D. Sumethi.
Within the ambit of Representation of People Act, a person with an ‘unsound mind’ can be disqualified from registering and voting.
The Institute, with help from DRA intends to multiply the number of enrolled patients by three times next year.
Providing a family like environment remains IHM’s priority. “We have always and continue to treat them as normal people who need extra care and medical attention”, said P. Chandrika. Asserting that voting is every citizen’s birth right she said that “this is why we’re doing this for them”.