‘Tonsured heads, no privacy’: SC concerned on women in mental health institutes


The Supreme Court on Wednesday expressed concern over alleged violation of women’s human rights in mental health institutions, including tonsuring of their head and lack of privacy.

A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Vikram Nath, and Hima Kohli asked the Centre to immediately take up the issue with the state governments and union territories (UTs).

The bench took into account research studies conducted in 2016 by NIMHANS and National Commission for Women in 2020, highlighting these women, institutionalised in government run mental health establishments, face several indignities and violation of human rights.

The bench said: “We direct that the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment shall strictly raise each of the concerns which have been expressed in the research studies and has been formulated with the states/UTs in the course of monthly monitoring that has been directed.”

Advocate Gaurav Bansal, who has filed an interlocutory application, submitted that according to NIMHANS research, “many of the mental health establishments are still engaged in tonsuring hair of women institutionalised in hospitals”.

The study further added: “Many of the mental health establishments are compromising the dignity of the women institutionalised in mental hospitals. Many of the mental health establishments are not providing sanitary napkins to the women institutionalised in mental hospitals.”

Bansal’s application added that these women lack issuance of Identity Cards (like UIDAI/Aadhaar cards), lack of issuance of disability certificates, and also lack of issuance of disability pension. “Women institutionalised in mental health establishments (for treatment or rehabilitation purpose) are not allowed to keep their children with them as there is no separate mother-child ward in many of the government run mental health establishment,” the plea added.

The top court also directed all states and UTs to ensure Covid-19 vaccination, in a time-bound manner, of all inmates lodged in mental health institutions along with health care workers.

It asked states and UTs should file a progress report with the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment on or before October 15, and that the report should explain steps taken and the number of persons who are vaccinated against Covid-19 in the mental health care institutions.

The top court on July 6, this year, directed the Centre to ensure that people lodged in mental health establishments are tested for Covid-19 and fully vaccinated at the earliest.