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Monday, 6 August, 2001, 13:00 GMT 14:00 UK
India asylum blaze kills chained patients
Map showing location
Police in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu say at least 25 patients have died in a fire at a privately-run mental asylum.

Many of those killed had been chained to their beds, leaving them no means of escape when flames engulfed the thatched structure early on Monday.


Police at the scene have so far recovered 25 bodies which were charred beyond recognition

Police inspector
Palai Swamy
The blaze in Ervadi, some 500 km (300 miles) south of the state capital, Madras (Chennai), has now been put out.

Its cause has yet to be established.

However, one report said a man running the asylum had been detained for questioning.

Police and eyewitness said the bodies of the manacled patients were "charred beyond recognition".

"Only a few people managed to escape," local police inspector Palai Swamy told the French news agency AFP.

So far the bodies of 14 men and 11 women have been found.

Another five of the 53 residents were seriously injured.

Police said the home, which was run by a religious charity, was not registered by the local authorities.

Unlicensed

In recent years reforms have been implemented in many large institutions in India which care for the mentally ill.

But the BBC's Jill McGivering in Delhi says there is still little understanding of mental illness amongst the general public, or sympathy towards patients.

Many of the fire's victims were considered extreme - patients who were seen as incurable or were very violent - and had been brought to Tamil Nadu from neighbouring Kerala state by their relatives.

The burnt-out asylum is one of several dozen situated near Ramanathapuram in the tiny Muslim pilgrimage town of Ervadi, whose waters are believed to have curative powers for the mentally ill.

But the town has a poor reputation for treatment.

Many of the so-called asylums are little more than makeshift huts, lacking specialised facilities or trained staff.

Earlier this year, one report said 10 people had been beaten to death in one of the homes.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's South Asia Correspondent Jill McGivering
"Many of the patients were kept chained"
Justice VS Malimath, Human Rights Commission
"Tying them to the bed is a shocking thing"
Dr Srivasa Muti, World Health Organisation
"Today this should not be happening"
See also:

07 Apr 01 | Health
Stark warning on mental illness
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