PERSPECTIVE
THE MENTAL HOSPITAL-ITY OF DEVLOK HIMACHAL
No one speaks Kannada in Himachal Pradesh. No one cares, either.
- Anita Pathania
No one speaks Kannada in Himachal Pradesh. No one cares, either.



REPORTERS BECOME IMMUNE to certain shocking realities of life. Most reporters do not lose a wink of sleep after filing a headline that says 'Two dead in car, scooter accident.' You can call such loss of sensitivity a professional hazard. It's a trait reporters share with police, with medics, even with staffers carrying out post-mortems of bodies, day in and day out.

And then comes a story like this, and it breaks your heart that while many aspects could be uncertain, one is true: our ability of not being shocked. 

In his 1983 book, India File, based on reporting India as a foreign correspondent, Trevor Fishlock recalled the felicity and the matter-of-fact tone with which reporters in remote Bihar villages used to describe caste-based violence and multiple killings as if these were just a societal norm. He specifically mentioned news reports that would describe that killers preferred blunt scythes for massacres since sharp ones did not inflict enough pain while they chopped off body parts. Most such reports were written in a straight-faced manner, much in the style of a pasta recipe writing.

Read this story in a leading national daily, reported on Thursday, July 12. 

A woman, Padma Samptha, from Mysore who only spoke Kannada has been an inmate at the Shimla mental hospital for two years now, and the only reason she has not been reunited with her family is that "she speaks only Kannada, which none understands here."

"Padma’s frustrations have only grown," says the news report. 

A woman remained confined in a leading facility like the Himachal Hospital of Mental Health and Rehabilitation (HHMHR), right in the capital of a state that receives tourists from all over the world, and the police, the hospital authorities, the entire might of the government put together can't find one person who can translate what this woman says into Hindi so that we can find out about her family and reach out?

All they needed was one person who knew Kannada and one more language understandable to just one person in all of Himachal Pradesh. Last we checked, Karnataka was in India and rumours have it that some people there still speak the Kannada language.
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News reports used to describe how killers preferred blunt scythes to massacre their enemies since sharp ones did not inflict enough pain as they chopped off body parts.
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Of the 6.41 crore people in Karnataka, a few must still be speaking Kannada. If Himachal Pradesh's BJP government has such an antipathy towards a state that Amit Shah's tactics could not win, it could have tapped a Kannada speaker in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Kerala or Goa. Roughly, 4.37 crore people speak Kannada. Most of them live in India. One such speaker should not be so hard to find.

The hospital authorities, the police or the state administration could have requested a Kannada-speaking tourist to please spare 15 minutes and help them know what the woman wants to communicate. They had two years for this.

It finally took a self-inspired kind college teacher, Dr Suneela Sharma, to make the effort and explore if some help could be mustered for the inmate of the mental asylum, who, the doctors state, has no mental health issue. 
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Last we checked, Karnataka was in India and rumours have it that some people there still speak the Kannada language.
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Lest we, too, are found to be people who have developed an incapacity to be shocked, once again, on the pain of repetition, go over this: doctors say a woman is in a mental hospital but has no mental issue, no one understands what she says, everyone knows that she speaks Kannada, there is no one around who speaks Kannada, so all one has to do is to find one person who speaks Kannada for about 15 minutes, and everyone fails to do so for two years. Everyone. The doctors, the nurses, the hospital authorities, the health department, the district administration, the police, the state government. You. Me. Our collective shameless selves.

If there's one reason you should advise your neighbours to go to Pakistan, this one would be enough. No one cares. So if Pakistan is really such a bad place, we are giving it a tough competition. We might already be there, actually.
 
How much does it take to move a human being with any semblance of nicety to action? Read the first two sentences of senior journalist Ashwani Sharma's report in the Indian Express: "She looks at the security guard and the locked gate in utter disappointment. Then, tears rolling down her eyes, she goes back hurriedly, crying out aloud."

This is her daily morning routine. Now, decode her situation: you think the problem is that we have failed to locate her family and she should be reunited with her family? Wait, you missed another problem: the hapless woman hasn't spoken to a human soul in all this time!

What will shock you? For starters, try not speaking to another human being for a week.

Imagine the potential that the story of Padma Samptha has for our tourism sector. A competing hill town anywhere in the world has only to tell people that an entire infrastructural set up of police and civilian administration and civil society segment in this city does not care to get one person for a few minutes from an Indian province to communicate with a woman. For two full years! 

What if a Dutch or a Greek or a Peruvian tourist falls sick and you need someone to decode what he or she says?
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If Pakistan is really such a bad place, we are giving it a tough competition. We might already be there, actually.
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Shimla and Himachal Pradesh have shamed themselves. Its medical fraternity, the unions of nurses and doctors, the unions of non-medical staffers, all have shamed themselves.

In the course of the reportage, a senior doctor says that "contacts have been established with Karnataka government’s health authorities, which have written to district mental healthcare programme officer in Mysore to work out modalities for her relocation to a local rehabilitation centre."

We leave it to the readers to deduce whether this shows a sense of urgency, or one of utter apathy. Those weaving a tapestry of insensitivity with the endless bureaucratic red tape need to realise that the world invented a thing called a telephone. Someone needs to pick up one and dial.

This is a case where even the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh is in the loop. The circle of shamelessness and utter apathy is now complete. 

Tomorrow morning, Padma Samptha will be at the gate. She will go back, disappointed, torn asunder, and will utter a curse.

But don't worry: it will be in Kannada, and no one understands it. So why bother? 

"Modalities are being worked out." There is nothing more vulgar than official-speak. We have learnt the dirtiest language in the world. We need to be in that mental hospital, learning to say ‘We are sorry’. In Kannada. 
 
Post-script: 
Full disclosure: I am a Himachali, and spent several years in a village called Tihra in Mandi district. In the defence of the common people of my state, all I can say is that of the nearly 400 residents of my village, 154 kilometres away from Shimla and in the back of the beyond of this Devlok province, I do not know of one person who will be able to have a meal in peace after knowing the plight of Padma Samptha — primarily not just because of what happened to Padma Samptha, but because of what has happened to us, as a people. That’s our only hope, and my only defence of my people. And we are sorry.
 

Disclaimer : PunjabToday.in and other platforms of the Punjab Today group strive to include views and opinions from across the entire spectrum, but by no means do we agree with everything we publish. Our efforts and editorial choices consistently underscore our authors' right to the freedom of speech. However, it should be clear to all readers that individual authors are responsible for the information, ideas or opinions in their articles, and very often, these do not reflect the views of PunjabToday.in or other platforms of the group. Punjab Today does not assume any responsibility or liability for the views of authors whose work appears here.

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