Several undertrials have been locked behind the gates of the Thane mental hospital for decades. File pic
Several undertrials have been locked behind the gates of the Thane mental hospital for decades. File pic

Imagine being locked away for decades, neglected by the government and forgotten by your family. This is the fate of Raghu Patil, who was sent to the Regional Mental Hospital, Thane, after insanity drove him to murder his wife. Forty years later, Patil is still there, in the prison ward of the hospital, even though his trial was never completed. Long abandoned by his family members and with no legal recourse, Patil could very well languish there till the end of his days, unseen and unheard.

Patil is not the only one to suffer this fate. Dr S Raokande, Medical Superintendent (Regional) Thane Mental hospital, said, "We have around 14 undertrials in the prison ward, but we also have patients otherwise who are staying in the hospitals for over four decades."

Hope at last?
As per the new Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, psychiatry patients can be kept in the mental hospital for not more than 120 days, and only on approval of the district mental health review committee. If an inmate's stay has to be extended, he or she must be produced before the district mental health review board, headed by an officer from judiciary.

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"It is unfortunate that Patil had to stay inside the prison cell of the hospital for such a long time. The right to be heard is the constitutional right of every citizen, but none of these patients were able to stand trial in court," said lawyer Lakshmi Ravindra.

Where will they go?
While the new Act will go a long way toward protecting the rights of these inmates, the question remains, where will they be sent after the 120-day period comes to an end? Former superintendent of the hospital, Dr Sanjay Kumavat, who was also the state's deputy director of mental health, who had handled Patil's case, said, "Patil is an example of a 'chronic paranoid schizophrenic', who are easily excited and can cause harm to themselves or to society. The challenge will be to tackle such cases with chronic mental problems. The new law states that such cases should be referred to rehabilitation homes and not be kept at mental hospitals."

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The need of the hour is to build such facilities where inmates can be provided vocational and rehabilitation training, to give them proper living conditions. The system lacks this currently, said Kumavat, adding that this is largely due to the fact that mental illness is still very much considered taboo.