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Tuesday, 7 August, 2001, 22:30 GMT 23:30 UK
Chaining ban after India asylum fire
survivors of asylum fire
The fire swept through the asylum early on Monday
District authorities in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu have decided to ban the practice of chaining mentally ill patients to their beds, after a fire in a mental home on Monday killed 27 people.

They also plan to introduce a new rule requiring every patient to be accompanied by a member of their family.

Only a handful of families have come forward to identify their kin

Local police official
Most of those who died in the fire in Erwadi, some 500 kilometres (300 miles) south of the state capital, Madras, were chained to their beds - their shouts apparently ignored by the asylum's caretakers.

Police are still investigating the cause of the fire, but have ruled out an electrical short-circuit.

They have told the BBC that it might have been started by an oil lamp.

The funeral for the inmates took place on Tuesday. A mass cremation was held in the village after relatives identified bodies.

However, some families did not turn up to claim the remains of those killed.


The BBC's Delhi correspondent, Jill McGivering, says that all that remains of the hostel is charred wood and rows of support pillars.

The institute was in the small town of Urda Vadi, famous for a religious shrine which many believe has special curative powers.

The police said the owner of the home had been arrested on charges related to illegal confinement and negligent behaviour. Four other people are also being questioned.

According to our correspondent, local people say the small privately run hostels which house the patients are big business.

A state minister who visited the site said the government was considering a ban on these homes. He said a decision could be expected soon.

Closure call

The Ramanathapuram district authorities have reportedly asked the Tamil Nadu state government to close down all the privately run mental asylums in the area.

There are at least 50 such homes for the mentally ill in Erwadi.

Police said the home where the fire started was run by a religious charity, but was not registered by the local authorities.

Many of the so-called asylums are little more than makeshift huts, offering no medical treatment and in some conditions are said to be unsanitary.

The BBC's Jill McGivering
"Many hostel owners oppose the move"
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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