After recovery: Who wants a woman like you?
As I visit the mental asylum I see a sharp contrast in the way men and women are treated. Why?
This week I visited the Punjab Institute of Mental Health (PIMH) in the Shadman area of Lahore with my class. We noticed a stark difference between the men's ward and the women's ward.
It was a heartbreaking experience. I came to realize that the stigma of being a “mental patient” can mean loneliness and isolation for all psychiatric patients, especially women.
The men's ward
When we entered the men's ward we saw a group of men clad in bright blue shalwar kameez and mismatched sweaters. They were seated on rough carpets on the floor, basking in the warmth of the winter sun.
These were the stable male patients, survivors who were able to regain normal mental equilibrium with regular medication.
As they saw a flood of baajian (that was us) entering the ward, they waved to us smiling and laughing like innocent school children. It was difficult to tell that these people once suffered from socially taboo illnesses like schizophrenia.
However, the trip to the female’s ward was neither as inspiring nor as cheerful as the male ward.
The women's ward
As we entered, a swarm of female patients ran to the open gate. The large expanse of the green lawn was full of women dressed in pink shalwar kameez. Their condition was abysmal. I was shocked.
Female patients, stable and unstable all seemed to live together. But they did not seem happy.
While some of the ladies stood holding hands, some screamed and yelled at one another but fell silent at random intervals.
A woman who seemed to be in her 50s ran towards us and greeted us like we were long-lost relatives. As we smiled and nodded politely, her enthusiasm mounted to a new level. She cried with delight and sang her own rendition of Noor Jahan’s Laung Gawacha, casting coy glances at us while frequently touching her nose-pin as she swayed to the tune..
Some of the older female patients had their hair cropped to manly bobs. Some walked with spastic movement and had twisted wrists and heads tilted at angles.
The director of PIMH told me that in many cases recovery was irrelevant. The institute was to be the women's home as their families refuse to take these patients back even when their mental state has improved. He told me about a particularly tragic case of a Canadian girl, who received treatment, recovered and was duly released by the institute.
But the girl's family refused to take her in. She was left on the streets where she was raped and tortured.
It took her months to find her way back to PIMH - where she was now diagnosed with acute schizophrenia, depression, paranoia. She has to be kept in solitary confinement. The doctor on duty told us about the girl when she explained that female patients are hardly ever accepted by their families even after complete recovery.
I felt sick, sad and hurt to know that families could behave this way.