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Archive for October 31st, 2007

The Bandra magistrate’s court has awarded the custody of Faisal Khan to his father Tahir Hussain.

For those unfamiliar with the case, Faisal had approached the court a month ago accusing his brother Aamir Khan of forcible confinement. He had been made a prisoner, he said, and he would rather be alone or with his father than return to Aamir. Aamir had responded that Faisal suffers from schizophrenia-affected psychosis, a claim which was supported by the doctor’s reports, and had argued that he continue to have Faisal’s custody in the interest of the latter’s well-being. Today’s judgement by the court dismisses Aamir’s petition but directs that the father will now have custody.

I have mixed feelings about the judgement. On the one hand, I am glad that the court did not direct Faisal to be returned against his will to Aamir. However, from the news reports it appears that Faisal wanted to be a free man, and being put under the care of his father was his second-best option, perhaps something he put forth to escape being sent back to his former state. If that is the case, why should his freedom be denied?

My position is that involuntary custody in such an instance can be justified for only one reason- to prevent the person from harming others. The medical report says that Faisal’s illness “may affect mood” and make him prone to acting “irrationally”. Nowhere does it suggest that Faisal is dangerous or violent. He is just more likely than you or me to have unconventional thoughts and behaviour. Is it right for society to make a value judgement on his case and lock him up? A century ago, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder and “patients” were forcibly treated at psychiatric hospitals. Indeed, mental disorders, to paraphrase Thomas Szasz, are best viewed as a kind of social construction, created by society’s concept of what constitutes normality and abnormality. (To clarify, my argument is not that mental conditions are non-existent but rather that the set of conditions that are deemed ‘disorders’ are a function of social convention). As long as the person is not harming others, do we have a right to restrict his fundamental freedoms because his opinions, values or actions do not conform to our notions of correctness?

Newer posts on this topic:

(Dec 18, 2007) Who’s afraid of Faisal Khan?;    

(Feb 17, 2008) Faisal gets his freedom finally.

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