Many Indian Mothers Intentionally
Brain-Damage Daughters
By Krittivas Mukherjee
Indo-Asian News Service

New Delhi (IANS) - One-year-old Preethi, a mentally challenged child, wasn't born with the disability. Her mother inflicted it on her.
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 life.
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 district.
"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 international 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. "It is a shame that such a practice still carries on," he laments.
Banik said he considered prevention of the macabre practice 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 Handicapped.
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 population.
"The actual number of people affected by such disability is even higher, something like 300-400 million, because in a disabled person's family there would be three or four members," says Banik.
Banik laments that though India has such a large population 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 mainstream 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 government's Rehabilitation Council of India, averred: "We are pushing a convergence policy in the 10th five year plan. We are demanding equalisation of services and equalisation of opportunities for all types of disabled people."
"There is so little awareness. Even medical graduates don't have much idea about mental disabilities and its treatment. So therapeutic intervention is almost not there," said Prasad, founder of a leading research and rehabilitation institute for the mentally challenged in the country.
"But the participation of the society in the rehabilitation 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 people," 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 programme" if it wanted to be of any help to the country's 100 million disabled people.
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