In a first of its kind, 156 inmates of Institute of Mental Health certified “fit-to-vote” in their case sheet, have been either cured or are undergoing treatment had cast their votes creating history in Chennai in the second phase of Lok Sabha elections.
The 156 inmates came in their traditional uniforms of green and maroon holding on their first voter identity cards. What was surprising was the majority of the inmates preferred to sign rather tan provide thumb impression. Most of the inmates were battling schizophrenia and other such ailments.
IMH Director Dr P Poorna Chandrika was elated over the exercise being conducted in the hospital. “This is the first time in the country that such patients are voting and also for the first time an auxillary polling booth is being set up inside a mental hospital,”
In a rare case scenario, students of Loyola College and Election Commission officials in Chennai conducted awareness programmes and mock polls on the hospital premises ahead of elections. The exercise to add the inmates’ names to the electoral roll was initiated in February this year, the director said, adding patients were chosen based on their decision-making capacity.
According to Dr Chandrika, “The Chennai Corporation and Disability Rights Alliance approached us and the result was a massive exercise in which we screened 900 patients on the premise”.
The National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences in Bengaluru and Calcutta Mental Hospital also have voters list, but it is not known if they have done something like this.
“The components we considered to screen the patients include knowledge of the election process, their thoughts, language and how relevant conversations they can have,” Dr Poorna Chandrika said.
The 156 inmates were certified “fit-to-vote” in their case sheet, have been either cured or are undergoing treatment. Some are employed inside the hospital while others at the Directorate of Medical and Rural Health Services in the city, according to hospital officials. After casting his vote, another inmate expressed interest to vote in the 2021 State assembly polls. He has a diploma in mechanical engineering and wanted government to offer job opportunities to inmates who are skilled and qualified.
“Much of the time we are confined to our wards. I want to get out and do something useful. Government must give opportunities for us too,” an inmate, who was admitted to the hospital four months ago, said.