- New Delhi (IANS) - One-year-old Preethi, a mentally
child, wasn't born with the disability. Her mother inflicted it on
- As Preethi's mother did not want a fourth daughter, she
followed a traditional practice to kill babies -- forcing paddy husk down
the minutes-old baby's throat.
- Preethi survived but her tender lungs and throat were
badly damaged -- the serrated husk cutting parts of the windpipe, reducing
the flow of oxygen to the brain, and mentally impairing her for
- In millions of India's poor families the birth of a girl
child is considered a burden and a divine curse. Preethi was born in one
such family in Hosur in the southern state of Tamil Nadu's Dharmapuri
- "Many of the girls who are subjected to this kind
of gagging survive. And in most cases, they survive as mentally disabled
because their brain gets damaged," says Sambhu N. Banik, an
expert on mental health.
- Banik, a Washington-based Indian American, is a former
head of the U.S. president's committee on mental retardation and a leading
consultant in the field. He runs a therapeutic centre in Washington.
- Banik helps run a home, Anantha Ashram, in Tamil Nadu
for destitute children, many of whom are disabled girls like Preethi.
is a shame that such a practice still carries on," he laments.
- Banik said he considered prevention of the macabre
a concern of law enforcing authorities.
- "We are more concerned about their rehabilitation
and cure, if possible," Banik told IANS on a visit here to accept
a lifetime achievement award from the Hyderabad-based Thakur Hari Prasad
Institute of Research and Rehabilitation for the Mentally
- He said drastic measures were required to check India's
burgeoning population of disabled people, both physical and mental, which
now stood at 100 million, or 10 percent of the country's total
- "The actual number of people affected by such
is even higher, something like 300-400 million, because in a disabled
family there would be three or four members," says Banik.
- Banik laments that though India has such a large
of disabled people, they were a neglected lot.
- "For the sake of dignity of human beings, please
recognise the special needs of these people and include them in the
of society," urged Banik.
- He believes the best way to do it is through increased
awareness. "Let's have a national policy making voluntary service
mandatory for high school students. This way they can develop a sense of
civic responsibility and an awareness for the disabled."
- Thakur Hari Prasad, former chairman of the Indian
Rehabilitation Council of India, averred: "We are pushing a
policy in the 10th five year plan. We are demanding equalisation of
and equalisation of opportunities for all types of disabled
- "There is so little awareness. Even medical
don't have much idea about mental disabilities and its treatment. So
intervention is almost not there," said Prasad, founder of a leading
research and rehabilitation institute for the mentally challenged in the
- "But the participation of the society in the
of a disabled person is of utmost importance. Right now in India, it is
not a question of rights, but a matter of survival for the disabled
said Prasad, vice-president of the Indian Red Cross Society.
- Both Banik and Prasad stress that "rehabilitation
is a separate science" and that the government has to realise the
need for developing a "comprehensive need-based schematic
if it wanted to be of any help to the country's 100 million disabled
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