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Wednesday, 8 August, 2001, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Indian mental homes face closure
survivors of asylum fire
The fire swept through the asylum early on Monday
All private mental homes in a town in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu have been ordered shut following a deadly fire in which 27 mental patients were burnt to death.

The fire tore threw a privately run mental home in the pilgrimage town of Ervadi, where many patients were brought because of a Muslim shrine thought to have special curative powers.

Sixteen private mental homes had come up around the shrine although the shrine's trustees have said they had nothing to with them.

Local authorities have started forcing the owners of the homes to remove chains from their patients. Many of the victims of Monday's fire could not escape the blaze because they were kept chained.

Shut down

The inspector-general of police, V Balchandran, has ordered that the remaining 15 homes should shut down within seven days.

Nearly 700 inmates living in these places will now have to be sent back to their relatives immediately.

Click here for map showing Ervadi

"The relatives can take their patients for worship to the shrine but they cannot leave them at the mercy of these shelters masquerading as mental asylums," state Labour Minister Anwar Raja said.

The state government has asked the district authorities to file a comprehensive report on the incident.

India's supreme court has asked for a report from the state government, saying the incident raised important human rights questions.


On Wednesday, officials toured the mental homes, inspecting the premises and warning the owners that they faced arrest if they continued to chain the inmates.

The BBC's Jill McGivering said patients lined up to have their chains broken, clearly delighted.

But many of the owners oppose the move, saying that without the chains, it is impossible for them to control the patients, many of whom have severe psychiatric disorders and may be violent.

Monday's fire has shocked people in Tamil Nadu, with almost all political parties demanding a thorough investigation.

They say a mental asylum - where proper treatment is available - should be set up instead.

Allegations that some of these patients were tortured have been examined by the human right commission of the state.

But social activists say that though the government had formulated guidelines for the care of the patients, they were never monitored.

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The BBC's South Asia Correspondent Jill McGivering
reports on homes for the mentally ill in Erwadi
See also:

06 Aug 01 | South Asia
Police probe India asylum blaze
07 Apr 01 | Health
Stark warning on mental illness
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