FORGOTTEN BY THE GODS
That morning on Bali, the Island of the Gods, we followed the road Northeast.
My mind overactive.
My heart a jumble of emotions.
I was anxious and a little scared, frankly, to experience for myself what my photojournalist friend Rudi had already told me.
I am the passenger of Dr. Cokorda, psychiatrist and son of Prof. Luh Ketut Suryani, founder of the Suryani Institute for Mental Health.
They are taking me to see people affected by mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression, dementia, and for this reason imprisoned, bound in chains, or locked up in makeshift cells, often malnourished and living in appallingly poor hygienic conditions. This practice of immobilizing or binding mentally ill people is referred to as Pasung* in Indonesia.
While driving, they tell me of the hundreds of mentally ill people, left to this fate by their own families, often poor and without resources for medicine, who do not know how to react to their diseases. They restrain the patient out of fear and ignorance.
We arrive at our first destination; a small village in the area of Klungkung. The home of Kadek D.
The monsoon season has already begun, but it seems that this part of Bali have to wait a little longer for the rains to come.
It is a very hot day, the rice fields are dry, and the rivers are without water.
There is not even the faintest breeze to cool the sweat soaked shirt clinging to my skin.
We approach Kadek’s family compound to find his mother and brother awaiting us at the front step of the house.
The heavy air is stabbed incessantly by a dog’s staccato barking, the stench of rot and human excrement wafts from the room where the family has confined Kadek, fearing that he would do harm or commit acts of thievery if given license to roam freely
We approach to find him sleeping naked on a rough bed of bamboo slats. Under the bed rests a feces filled bucket, explaining a portion of the foul odor. Kadek’s malnourished
filthy state providing testament as to the remainder.
The details of this scene, so overpowering a moment ago, suddenly evaporate as I am transfixed by the sight of the roughly hewn block of wood which shackles Kadek’s legs, locking him in this supine hell. Unable to move or change position, his muscles have atrophied to the point that even if he were freed, he would require extensive physiotherapy to be able to walk again. This has been his state of existence for the last ten, perhaps fifteen years.
Astoundingly, Kadek smiles and apologizes for his nakedness. His elderly mother helps him into a T shirt. I remain silently on the sidelines observing the approach of the doctor with the other family members. I am fascinated by his way amongst these people, at once persuasive and determined.
Dr. Cokorda relates stories of ordinary people tipped into a dark abyss by life’s events. Locked up, chained and left to die of starvation or infection related diseases, lonely, and unloved.
The practice of Pasung is officially illegal in Indonesia. The government is seeking solutions to end this practice but in Bali, and many other rural areas of the archipelago, the rehabilitation program has not yet taken hold.
Bali’s sole psychiatric hospital is located in Bangli.
An old structure, lacking sufficient staff and resources, it cannot house patients more than two months. The mentally ill usually being returned home to again be locked and chained.
The Suryani Institute operates a volunteer program which treates patients and seeks to enlighten people regarding mental health issues, providing a process by which to eradicate Pasung through education .
Love, hygiene, nutrition, dialogue and meditation form the base of their program.
Note:*”pasung” is used as both a verb and noun, referring to the act of binding or locking someone in place and also to refer to the object used to achieve this.