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“Mental illness is not a disability, it is a disease”: J.P. Gadkari

As the cry to include mental illness in the National Trust Act gets louder, organizations working with mental retardation, autism and cerebral palsy, etc. are vehemently opposing it. In an interview with Dorodi Sharma of D.N.I.S., J.P. Gadkari, President, Parivaar, the parents body for intellectually disabled people, gets candid on why they do not want mental illness in the National Trust Act.

D.N.I.S.: There is a huge debate in the disability sector on whether there should be four different laws on disabilities or one comprehensive law. What are your views on this?

J.P. Gadkari: A few back when a bureaucrat of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment had posed a question to me as to why can't we have a single comprehensive law dealing with all disabilities, I was somewhat taken aback by this poser. My apprehension was that under one such disability law, the persons with different categories of disabilities will be deprived of various benefits and facilities which they had won after a prolonged struggle. This apprehension was not without basis if you look at the bureaucratic attitudes displayed by those in power and administration from time to time.

However, there is a paradigm change in the situation now. U.N.C.R.P.D. has also removed distinction among persons with disabilities by asserting that all persons with disabilities have legal capacity and equal rights like all other citizens.

In this changed situation, there should not be any objection to a single comprehensive law with different chapters for all disabilities based on their specific needs and requirements. Also all existing facilities, concessions, etc., should be safeguarded and further improved upon in the light of the provisions of U.N.C.R.P.D.

D.N.I.S.: What do you have to say about the major debate to include mental illness in the National Trust Act?

J.P. Gadkari: We (Parivaar and myself personally) are firmly against the inclusion of mental illness in the National Trust Act. Because we believe that mental illness is NOT a disability, it is an illness or a disease. It can be treated and cured in most of the cases. It was a mistake to include it in the list of disabilities in the Disability Act of 1995.

I want to emphasize here that National Trust Act is meant for persons with autism, cerebral palsy, mental retardation and multiple disabilities. These conditions are acquired from birth in most of the cases and are irreversible. It was enacted as a separate legislation for these four disabilities to fulfill their specific needs and requirements and provide permanent residential care, respite care, rehabilitation services and family support programmes.

For the mentally ill there is a separate legislation - the Mental Health Act, 1987 which should not be considered as a disability legislation. It should be under the charge of the Health Ministry and the mental illness lobby can ask the Government to provide all facilities, which they require under this Act.

D.N.I.S.: There is a growing demand that people with mental illness and many other severe disabilities should also be covered under the various schemes of National Trust like Gharaunda and Niramaya. What is your take on this?

J.P. Gadkari: The severely disabled are already covered by the National Trust Act under the category of multiple disability. Other disabilities have adequate provisions under the Disability Act. As far as mental illness is concerned, I have already expressed my views.

D.N.I.S.: It is being alleged that organizations working for mental retardation, autism, cerebral palsy, etc. are putting pressure on the National Trust to not include other disabilities in general and mental illness in particular under the National Trust Act. What do you have to say on this?

J.P. Gadkari: It is patently and totally a false allegation that organizations working for mental retardation, autism, cerebral palsy etc., are putting pressure on the National Trust not to include other disabilities, mental illness, etc. under the National Trust Act. Infact, the National Trust through its website is conducting an opinion poll on these questions and everyone has a freedom of opinion to express his or her view.

Moreover, even if someone pressurizes the National Trust, they have no authority to change the law, include or exclude any of the disabilities from under their purview. That can only be done through an amendment to the present legislation by the Parliament.

D.N.I.S.: Recently, after much dithering, the Chandigarh administration has finally agreed to take care of an orphan mentally retarded girl who became pregnant after being raped at a government run shelter home. What are your views on the case?

J.P. Gadkari: It is a great victory for the entire disability sector which stood firmly by the girl. Since the crime was committed at a Government run sheltered home where the girl was staying, it was primarily the responsibility of the Chandigarh administration to take care of the victim and give her shelter, protection and all other facilities to take care of her advancing pregnancy and the forthcoming birth of the child. However, the administration wanted to wash its hands off this responsibility. It was only because of the active intervention on the part of the Disabled Rights Group (D.R.G.) and the National Federation of Parents Associations - Parivaar that the Chandigarh administration was ultimately forced to assume its responsibility.