What was the Erwadi Fire Incident (2001)?

Introduction

Erwadi fire incident is an accident that occurred on 06 August 2001, when 28 inmates of a faith-based mental asylum died in the fire. All these inmates were bound by chains at Moideen Badusha Mental Home in Erwadi Village in Tamil Nadu.

Large number of mental homes existed in Erwadi which was famous for the dargah of Quthbus Sultan Syed Ibrahim Shaheed Valiyullah, from Medina, Saudi Arabia who came to India to propagate Islam. Various people believe that holy water from the dargah and oil from the lamp burning there have the power to cure all illnesses, especially mental problems. The treatment also included frequent caning, beatings supposedly to “drive away the evil”. During the day, patients were tied to trees with thick ropes. At night, they were tied to their beds with iron chains. The patients awaited a divine command in their dreams to go back home. For the command to come, it was expected to take anything from two months to several years.

As the number of people seeking cure at dargah increased, homes were set up by individuals to reportedly take care of the patients. Most of these homes were set up by people who themselves had come to Erwadi seeking cure for their relatives.

The origins of the fire are unknown, but once it spread, there was little hope of saving most of the 45 inmates, who were chained to their beds in the ramshackle shelter in which they slept, though such shackling was against Indian law. Some inmates whose shackles were not as tight escaped, and five people were hospitalised for severe burns. The bodies of the dead were not identifiable.

Aftermath and Legacy

All mental homes of this type were closed on 13 August 2001, and more than 500 inmates were placed under government’s care. As per Supreme Court directions, a commission headed by N. Ramdas was set up to enquire into these deaths. The commission recommended that care of mentally ill people is to be improved, that anybody wishing to set up a mental home to acquire a license, and that all inmates be unchained.

In 2007, the owner of the Badsha Home for the Mentally Challenged, his wife and two relatives were sentenced to seven years imprisonment by a magistrate Court.

What was the Lunacy (Vacating of Seats) Act 1886?

Introduction

The Lunacy (Vacating of Seats) Act 1886 (49 Vict.c.16) was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

It provided a mechanism for a Member of Parliament who was judged to be of unsound mind to be removed from his seat.

Refer to Chronology of UK Mental Health Legislation.

Background

There had been a number of cases of Members of Parliament who were felt, in the language of the time, to be lunatics. The most celebrated of these was John Bell the MP for Thirsk who in July 1849 was found to be insane by a commission of enquiry. It was then discovered that there was no way of depriving him of his seat and he remained a Member until his death in 1851.

In January 1886, Charles Cameron (later Sir Charles), known in the House of Commons as Dr Cameron, introduced the Lunacy (Vacating of Seats) Bill to deal with the problem. His determination was such that despite being a private members bill it went through all its Parliamentary stages with little opposition, in less than five months and received its Royal Assent on 10 May 1886, hence becoming the Lunacy (Vacating of Seats) Act 1886.

The Act

The Act was very short, barely more than a page long; and containing only three paragraphs.

It states what should happen if any member of the House of Commons should be committed to a lunatic asylum:

All those involved with the committal must send a report to the Speaker of the House of Commons or face a fine.

The Speaker should send the reports to the Commissioners in Lunacy and that two of them should visit the member and report to the Speaker. If the report is that he is of unsound mind then after six months the Speaker should request a further visit. If this second visit shows that the member is still of unsound mind then the reports are placed on the table in the House of Commons and at that point the seat of the member is declared vacant, and a byelection is called for his replacement.

Consequences

In practice there was a reluctance to call on the Act and it was only used once in the rather special circumstances of the First World War. An election was overdue and during the hostilities it was impossible to hold one. In August 1916, in these circumstances, Charles Leach, the MP for Colne Valley, was declared of unsound mind and relieved of his seat.

Repeal

The Lunacy (Vacating of Seats) Act 1886 was repealed and replaced by the Mental Health Act 1959; the Mental Health Act 1959 was itself repealed and replaced by the Mental Health Act 1983.

The section was subsequently repealed by the Mental Health (Discrimination) Act 2013.

Book: Mental Health in a Multi-Ethnic Society

Book Title:

Mental Health in a Multi-Ethnic Society: A Multidisciplinary Handbook.

Author(s): Suman Fernando and Frank Keating (Editors).

Year: 2008.

Edition: Second (2nd).

Publisher: Routledge.

Type(s): Hardcover, Paperback, and Kindle.

Synopsis:

This new edition of Mental Health in a Multi-Ethnic Society is an authoritative, comprehensive guide on issues around race, culture and mental health service provision. It has been updated to reflect the changes in the UK over the last ten years and features entirely new chapters by over twenty authors, expanding the range of topics by including issues of particular concern for women, family therapy, and mental health of refugees and asylum seekers.

Divided into four sections the book covers:

  • Issues around mental health service provision for black and minority ethnic (BME) communities including refugees and asylum seekers.
  • Critical accounts of how these issues may be confronted, with examples of projects that attempt to do just that.
  • Programmes and innovative services that appear to meet some of the needs of BME communities.
  • A critical but constructive account of lessons to be drawn from earlier sections and discussion of the way ahead.

With chapters on training, service user involvement, policy development and service provision Mental Health in a Multi-Ethnic Society will appeal to academics, professionals, trainers and managers, as well as providing up-to-date information for a general readership.

On This Day … 22 December

People (Deaths)

  • 1902 – Richard von Krafft-Ebing, German-Austrian psychiatrist and author (b. 1840).

Richard von Krafft-Ebing

Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing (1840-1902; full name Richard Fridolin Joseph Freiherr Krafft von Festenberg auf Frohnberg, genannt von Ebing) was an Austro–German psychiatrist and author of the foundational work Psychopathia Sexualis (1886).

Life

Krafft-Ebing was born in 1840 in Mannheim, Germany, studied medicine at the University of Heidelberg, where he specialised in psychiatry. He later practiced in psychiatric asylums. After leaving his work in asylums, he pursued a career in psychiatry, forensics, and hypnosis.

He died in Graz in 1902. He was recognised as an authority on deviant sexual behaviour and its medicolegal aspects.

Principal Work

Krafft-Ebing’s principal work is Psychopathia Sexualis: eine Klinisch-Forensische Studie (Sexual Psychopathy: A Clinical-Forensic Study), which was first published in 1886 and expanded in subsequent editions. The last edition from the hand of the author (the twelfth) contained a total of 238 case histories of human sexual behaviour.

Translations of various editions of this book introduced to English such terms as “sadist” (derived from the brutal sexual practices depicted in the novels of the Marquis de Sade), “masochist”, (derived from the name of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch), “homosexuality”, “bisexuality”, “necrophilia”, and “anilingus”.

Psychopathia Sexualis is a forensic reference book for psychiatrists, physicians, and judges. Written in an academic style, its introduction noted that, to discourage lay readers, the author had deliberately chosen a scientific term for the title of the book and that he had written parts of it in Latin for the same purpose.

Psychopathia Sexualis was one of the first books about sexual practices that studied homosexuality/bisexuality. It proposed consideration of the mental state of sex criminals in legal judgements of their crimes. During its time, it became the leading medico–legal textual authority on sexual pathology.

The twelfth and final edition of Psychopathia Sexualis presented four categories of what Krafft-Ebing called “cerebral neuroses”:

  • Paradoxia, sexual excitement occurring independently of the period of the physiological processes in the generative organs.
  • Anaesthesia, absence of sexual instinct.
  • Hyperaesthesia, increased desire, satyriasis.
  • Paraesthesia, perversion of the sexual instinct, i.e., excitability of the sexual functions to inadequate stimuli.

The term “hetero-sexual” is used, but not in chapter or section headings. The term “bi-sexuality” appears twice in the 7th edition, and more frequently in the 12th.

There is no mention of sexual activity with children in Chapter III, General Pathology, where the “cerebral neuroses” (including sexuality the paraesthesia’s) are covered. Various sexual acts with children are mentioned in Chapter IV, Special Pathology, but always in the context of specific mental disorders, such as dementia, epilepsy, and paranoia, never as resulting from its own disorder. However, Chapter V on sexual crimes has a section on sexual crimes with children. This section is brief in the 7th edition, but is expanded in the 12th to cover Non-Psychopathological Cases and Psychopathological Cases, in which latter subsection the term paedophilia erotica is used.

Krafft-Ebing considered procreation the purpose of sexual desire and that any form of recreational sex was a perversion of the sex drive. “With opportunity for the natural satisfaction of the sexual instinct, every expression of it that does not correspond with the purpose of nature – i.e., propagation, – must be regarded as perverse.” Hence, he concluded that homosexuals suffered a degree of sexual perversion because homosexual practices could not result in procreation. In some cases, homosexual libido was classified as a moral vice induced by the early practice of masturbation. Krafft-Ebing proposed a theory of homosexuality as biologically anomalous and originating in the embryonic and foetal stages of gestation, which evolved into a “sexual inversion” of the brain. In 1901, in an article in the Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen (Yearbook for Intermediate Sexual Types), he changed the biological term from anomaly to differentiation.

Although the primary focus is on sexual behaviour in men, there are sections on Sadism in Woman, Masochism in Woman, and Lesbian Love. Several of the cases of sexual activity with children were committed by women.

Krafft-Ebing’s conclusions about homosexuality are now largely forgotten, partly because Sigmund Freud’s theories were more interesting to physicians (who considered homosexuality to be a psychological problem) and partly because he incurred the enmity of the Austrian Catholic Church when he psychologically associated martyrdom (a desire for sanctity) with hysteria and masochism.

On This Day … 12 October

Events

  • 1773 – America’s first insane asylum opens.

People (Births)

  • 1925 – Denis Lazure, Canadian psychiatrist and politician (d. 2008).
  • 1929 – Robert Coles, American psychologist, author, and academic.

People (Deaths)

  • 1948 – Susan Sutherland Isaacs, English psychologist and psychoanalyst (b. 1885).

Eastern State Hospital (Virginia)

Eastern State Hospital is a psychiatric hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia. Built in 1773, it was the first public facility in the present-day United States constructed solely for the care and treatment of the mentally ill. The original building had burned but was reconstructed in 1985.

Denis Lazure

Denis Lazure (12 October 1925 to 23 February 2008) was a Canadian psychiatrist and politician. Lazure was a Member of the National Assembly of Quebec (MNA) from 1976 to 1984 and from 1989 to 1996. He is the father of actress Gabrielle Lazure.

Robert Coles

Robert Coles (born 12 October 1929) is an American author, child psychiatrist, and professor emeritus at Harvard University.

Knowing that he was to be called into the US Armed Forces under the ‘doctors’ draft’, Coles joined the Air Force in 1958 and was assigned the rank of captain. His field of specialisation was psychiatry, his intention eventually to sub-specialise in child psychiatry. He served as chief of neuropsychiatric services at Keesler Air Force base in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Susan Isaacs

Susan Sutherland Isaacs, CBE (née Fairhurst; 24 May 1885 to 12 October 1948; also known as Ursula Wise) was a Lancashire-born educational psychologist and psychoanalyst.

She published studies on the intellectual and social development of children and promoted the nursery school movement. For Isaacs, the best way for children to learn was by developing their independence. She believed that the most effective way to achieve this was through play, and that the role of adults and early educators was to guide children’s play.

Book: London and Its Asylums, 1888-1914 – Politics and Madness

Book Title:

London and Its Asylums, 1888-1914 – Politics and Madness.

Author(s): Robert Ellis.

Year: 2020.

Edition: First (1ed).

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan.

Type(s): Hardcover and Kindle.

Synopsis:

This book explores the impact that politics had on the management of mental health care at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 1888 and the introduction of the Local Government Act marked a turning point in which democratically elected bodies became responsible for the management of madness for the first time.

With its focus on London in the period leading up to the First World War, it offers a new way to look at institutions and to consider their connections to wider issues that were facing the capital and the nation.

The chapters that follow place London at the heart of international networks and debates relating to finance, welfare, architecture, scientific and medical initiatives, and the developing responses to immigrant populations.

Overall, it shines a light on the relationships between mental health policies and other ideological priorities.