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The Law And The Mind - Indian Legal System And Mental Illness

Indian Legal System refers to the system of laws which operate in the country. During the old times, there was a distinguished tradition of law, which had a historically independent school of legal theory as well as practice. Law as a matter of religious convention and philosophical discussion has an eminent history in India. During the Islamic rule, Sharia law came to India, but that was applicable only to the Muslim people.

When British Government came to India, there was a break in tradition, and the Hindu and the Islamic laws were displaced by the common law. As a result, the present judicial system of India concludes largely from the British system and has a little correlation to the society of the pre-British era. Most of the current Indian Laws are largely based on the English Common Law, a system of law which is based on the recorded judicial precedents and shows considerable influence on European, American and many of the legislations introduced by the British which are still operative.

Therefore, the roots of the most of legislations in respect of persons with mental disorders can be traced from the British period. There is a vast relationship between the concept of the mental illness, the treatment of the person who is mentally ill and the law.

According to a report, for psychiatrists the court is the �another house, with the different motives, goals and the rules of conduct.� While the psychiatrist is concerned with the treatment of mental disorders and the health of the patient, the court is mainly concerned with the determination of competency, adverseness, diminished responsibility and the welfare of the people forming the society. Basically mental illness is a condition which causes serious disorder in a person�s behaviour or thinking.

It refers to a wide range of the condition of mental health disorders that affect the mood, thinking and behavior. Mental illness is the most traumatic illness a person can ever have. There are five signs of mental illness. They are:
  • Long-lasting sadness or irritability.
  • Extremely high and low moods.
  • Excessive fear, worry, or anxiety.
  • Social withdrawal.
  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits.

Some examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, personality disorder, psychotic disorder and addiction behavior. When a person suffers from mental illness one may tries to attempt suicide or he/she suffers from mere depression. Depression is a very common mental disorder which is different from usual mood swings. Globally, more than 264 million people of mostly all the age groups suffer from depression.

Depression is of many kinds, but one must consult a therapist, a friend, or any family member with which victim feels safe to have a conversation without being judged, when the victim is depressed and later feels to commit suicide. Victim is afraid to pour out the feelings by a thought of being judged or merely feels �what the people around me will think of me?� As the society being so judgemental, that they say anything about anyone even without knowing them and try to blame someone without knowing if it�s their fault or not.

Laws made by India for the treatment of persons with mental disorders
The Constitution of our country guarantees a person�s right to life and personal liberty (article 21), including the right to move freely anywhere and everywhere and the freedom of expression.

It also includes:
�facilities for reading, writing and expressing oneself in different forms, freely moving about and mixing with other human beings.�

According to the Representation of People Act, 1950 (section 16), a person is disqualified for the registration in an electoral roll if he is of unsound mind and stand declared by the court of law. Therefore, the person so disqualified cannot hold any public office (under the Constitution) such as President, Vice-President, Member of Parliament and the State Legislatures. Relationship between psychiatry and law mostly comes into play during the time of treatment of PMI.

The treatment of such people constantly enclose curtailment of personal liberty of psychiatric patients. Also laws must determine the capability of PMI, especially when it comes to ascertaining personal responsibility for actions. PMI face many threats which are not connected to their treatment. These threats arise from various places which include family members, friends, organizations and other communities and different people in society, who somehow take advantage of these individuals in any way. Most of the countries in the world have laws regarding treatment of psychiatric patients, India is among them.

Though there are various descriptions of different forms of mental disorders, the care of the mentally ill patients in the asylums in our country is a British innovation. In 1858, when the British takeover the administration of India, a large number of laws were lay down so that the care and treatment of mentally ill persons could be controlled in British India.

The laws were as follows:
  • The Lunacy Act, 1858 (for Supreme Courts)
  • The Lunacy Act, 1858 (for District Courts)
  • The Indian Lunatic Asylum Act, 1858 (amendments were made in 1886 and 1889)
  • The Military Lunatic Acts, 1877

The acts mention above gave guidelines for the establishment of the mental asylums and procedure to admit patients with mental disorder. The British picture existing in the middle of the 19th century served as the scene of lunacy legislations in the same period in India. The different acts of the year 1858 reflected the legalistic frame for the administration of the mentally ill. Hence, the Indian Lunacy Act of 1912 was enacted. Lunatic asylums, which were named as mental hospitals in 1922 are now regulated and supervised by a central authority. The act of voluntary admission was introduced.

Still, the main focus was on to prevent the society from the danger of mentally ills and to make sure that no sane person is admitted in these mental asylums. The psychiatrists were appointed for full time in these asylums. Provisions of judicial probation for mentally ill persons were also provided in the act. After the Second World War in the year 1948, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the UN General Assembly. Indian Psychiatric Society submitted a draft in 1950, Mental Health Bill so that they can replace the outmoded ILA-1912. Mental Health Act (MHA-87) was finally constituted in 1987 after a long procedure.

Therefore, there is a need for a suitable mechanism to ensure that affected individuals get proper medical attention and care and some policies and provisions are implemented to protect the rights of such group. Like many other countries in the world, India has laws that regulate the treatment of psychiatric patients, or the mentally ill patients. But very few acts are for the direct benefits or rights of those with PMI as they have different deficiencies also.

The National Mental Health Program which exists since 1982 has been more proactive than reactive, despite being re-strategized in the year 1996. The better aspects of the mental health care reform are from the National Human Rights Commission, 2008 reports of the country. The reports mainly highlights the gross shortage that existed in the institutional care of PMI and also illuminates the positive changes in the individuals that can be brought about with tenacious monitoring, effective intervention and cooperation. This can result in higher participation from the society, improvement in the reservoir and living conditions of the people.

To cope with such issues, On April 7, 2017, the Mental Health Care Act was passed and in July 7, 2017, it came into enforcement. This act seeks to protect and promote the rights of persons with mental illness. This Act replaced the previously existing Mental Health Act of 1987. It remains to be seen if this act will provide protection and equitable care to psychiatric patients. The most important challenge ahead is the need for a cooperative drive to improve human resources in the field of mental health. It must be emphasized that the goal of any law or other legal provision or act should be the welfare of the mentally ill people and the society.

Criminal Liability
Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860 stated:
Nothing is an offence, which is done by a person who, at the time of doing it, by reason of unsoundness of mind, is incapable of knowing the nature of the act, or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law.

McNaghten Rule defines the criminal responsibility of mentally ill person in our country courts and it has been mentioned in the sec 84. It has been held by the honourable Supreme Court that the law assumes every person of age of discretion to be in his senses and defense on the basis of insanity needs to be proven. If the insanity of a person is proved by defense, such persons are admitted to the Psychiatric Hospitals as per section 471 (i) of the criminal procedure act, 1973.

There have been cases of less time period sentence on account of mental illness. One such case of lesser time sentence on account of mental illness was where the feeling of life unbearable on account of domestic fight, a woman jumped into a well with her children, in this case it was held that the only sentence that could be passed was the lesser sentence of imprisonment for life (Baijanti Bai vs State of M.P.). Section 89 of the IPC provides that act done in good faith for benefit of child or insane person, by or by consent of guardian. Section 305 of the IPC provides for abetment of suicide of child or insane person.

We have witnessed the death of our versatile actor Sushant Singh Rajput which shook the entire nation and reason behind his death was suicide by depression. Mental illness has become an issue where necessary steps are not taken by anyone and as a result of which the death ratio is increasing day by day .The current generation is afraid to express themselves and they are afraid to communicate with others. The thought of being judged by the society and they thinks that:
what people will think and say about me and so is the reason they are afraid to visit a therapist. These decisions can only make the situation more worst and take their life.

There are many helpline numbers and NGO'S opened by the government for the people who have such depressing thoughts and have major depression or the desire to take away their life since long. The helpline listen to them and helps them emotionally so that they are not carried away by their own thoughts.

The person can call 9820466726, 9152987821 for getting help with such thoughts. They always provide 24*7 services. Depression and life taking thoughts are like PB and J sandwich both combined and with increasing suicidal ratio it becomes very important that proper precautionary steps are taken to take care of such people emotionally and stop them from committing such mistakes.

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Ishika
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