Lahore’s Dar-ul-Sukun, now an institute of torture and abuse

Published: December 26, 2012
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Mentally challenged patients are beaten and the administration says that 'it is the only way to control them'. PHOTO: REUTERS

If one begins to think about welfare institutions in Pakistan, Dar-ul-Sukun definitely comes to mind. It is located within the premises of the Punjab Welfare Society, Lahore. It houses psychiatric patients, both male and female, in separate wards. Most of the residents living there have been forsaken by their families.

In some cases, monetary support is the only sign of love that the families exhibit; in other cases, brief visits are made to quell the guilt-inducing inner voice.

The residents of Dar-ul-Sukun live their lives haunted by the memories of their past, which are both bitter and sweet. Their present is different though. It is only bitter and filled with constant humiliation.

Dar-ul-Sukun is anything but a sanctuary of peace

I worked there as a trainee clinical psychologist along with my class mates. We held intervention sessions for the residents. Initially, when I started to work there, I believed that the families of the residents were responsible for these circumstances. However, with time, my perception changed.

Within a couple of weeks, the residents started to gain comfort in telling me and my team members their problems. The dark alleys of the institute that had not initially disturbed us started to speak of the atrocities that took place behind the closed doors of a place that promised peace.

On most mornings, the administrative staff is either very late to come in to work, or they don’t show up at all. The furniture and washrooms are in shambles. The residents are made to eat in greasy, unwashed utensils. The female ward does not even have s supply of warm water, making the mere task of taking a bath torturous during winters.

Dar-ul-Sukun does not even have an in-house psychologist or psychiatrist. Most residents are getting medication without proper assessment. To make matters worse, they are forced into submission through physical and verbal abuse, which are unduly sanctioned by the administration as the “only way to control the mentally disabled”, further aggravating their condition.

The place lacks security in every sense. Two months into our programme based on group interventions, one regular attendee of the group started to skip sessions. Upon inquiry, we were informed that she had developed a ‘gynea problem’. This was surprising as we had always seen this member in good spirits with a beaming smile on her face.

We were told that the woman’s torment was the result of sexual abuse which took place before she was brought to the institute. Something about the explanation did not sit right, as this woman had been living there for a good two and a half years. We were left wondering as to why the symptoms did not appear before. Further probing revealed that sexual abuse was not uncommon at Dar-ul-Sukun.

Owing to the lack of professional psychological support and the generally oppressive environment of the place, many residents have developed new psychiatric illnesses.

The oldest member of the house was brought to this place after being diagnosed with epilepsy. She was otherwise a woman of sound mind. Now, 23 years later, she has started to exhibit symptoms of schizophrenia, which is a severe form of mental disturbance.

Disgruntled by this state of affairs, whenever we raised our voices, we were told that a lack of funds and resources was the main reason behind these conditions. Interestingly enough, when Hamza Shahbaz was to visit Punjab Welfare Society, the nearby institute for the disabled was whitewashed overnight.

Accounts of the stable residents also revealed that the administration takes away any money that they receive from their families, saying that they have no use for it as they are well provided for already. The goods which they receive in charity are also taken away from them.

Even if one agrees that it is difficult to afford basic comforts with insufficient funds, one still doesn’t understand why the patients are being tortured, abused and practically robbed of their rights?

I hate to have found out all this. A well-reputed place like Dar-ul-Sukun is supposed to be a safe haven for the ill, mentally disturbed and abandoned.

It should not be a nightmare.

Read more by Sahrish here.

Sahrish.Ahmad

Sahrish Ahmad

A trainee clinical psychologist, who loves to read and write.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • login

    I am shocked to read this.

    Can any one confirm the facts about Dar-Ul-Sukn, as elaborated in the blog above, as I was about to send them donations from my charity fund.
    If this is true, then May God lay his wrath upon the responsible and have mercy on the oppressed.

    Why to blame the leaders of wrongdoings. We are bad in our own capacity ………Recommend

  • harsh

    @login:
    Why to blame the leaders of wrongdoings. We are bad in our own capacity ………
    Very well saidRecommend

  • LikeWise

    Good job for highlighting this issue, especially the abuse part.Recommend

  • Saman

    Not sending any donations will not solve their problems, proper check and balance is needed.sexual abuse and torture has to stop.Recommend

  • Erum

    I’m sad after knowing all this… Recommend

  • Madhia

    sad.. Allah hum sab ko hidayat dey aur bure waqt se bachaye… ameenRecommend

  • goggi

    According to the famous sociologist Emile Durkheim , “Society is like a human body and its institutions are like vital organs”, so if an organ malfunctions then it can affect the whole society.

    Not one organ rather almost all organs of Pakistan society are in the meantime sick, bleeding, festered or mutilated.

    “Increasing physical violence” and “It does not concern me attitude” of the people has turned Pakistan (once upon a time a peaceful country) more and more inhuman and anarchic.Recommend

  • Sahrish

    I have been working there for four months now. As far as the donations are concerned, please go ahead with them. Buy goods and see to it that they get distributed properly, and spread the word around. People there need your monetary help and they deserved to get their voices heard.
    You guys can go and spend some time with residents every month. They would welcome you and your time and attention would make a world of difference. Recommend

  • Nzaar

    I have no affiliation with Dar al sakoon nor can I deny or confirm the facts of this article. However, professionalism demands that such a scathing attack on an institution give the other side of the story as well (interviews and perspectives of senior mgmt). In the absence of this, the article is blatantly biased and will do no good (already people are panicking and withholding donations).Recommend

  • Ch. Allah Daad

    We need thousands of Shebaz Sharifs to fix our broken system.Recommend

  • Aijaz Haider

    The SC is requested to take suo-moto action and order investigation about what is going on at Dar-ul-Sukun in light of this blog. The matter should not be be left unnoticed. CM Shahbaz Sharif is also requested to visit Dar-ul-Sukun and sort this out.Recommend

  • Salah-Ud-Din

    It is indeed very sad when the vulnerable in our society are abused as per this article. Sadly i do not live in Pakistan but i would urge anyone who is living in Lahore to kindly take an active interest in its workings. We have to partake and help to make such institutions better and more accountable. Very sad reading to say the least.Recommend

  • s shah

    I am so shocked and saddened to read of this abuse against the most vulnerable of our society. Shame on the Punjab government and on the administration of Darul Sakoon which allows this abuse. Can anybody do anything about this? Are we totally lost ? Thank you to the writer for exposing this evil that is being done to these poor people.Recommend

  • http://bigsaf.newsvine.com bigsaf

    These are serious abuses that needs to be tackled. The media needs to pick up on this, relevant officials need to be informed, some may need to be held accountable.

    Weren’t there court cases that were brought forward by concerned citizens earlier? Are families even aware or informed on what’s going on? Recommend

  • Wajeeh

    This shows the hights of selfishness and absence of moral values in our society which has turned us into a money collection machine. Very very sad. Recommend

  • Sahrish

    @Nzaar

    There is no management present in the institute. Their offices sit empty. The director of the institute is not a psychologist. She does not know the first thing about running an institute for the psychiatric patients.

    I am NOT AT ALLin favor of stopping the donations. Just be careful and don’t just drop off the money. See to it that it gets distributed properly. If you are donating, make sure to pay several visits afterwards to assure that things go into the right hands.
    People, who do harm to others, can easily be intimidated.

    It is our responsibility to fix this problem. If something is wrong in the society, we all are to be blamed. Recommend

  • Sahrish

    I urge all of you to go and visit the place, Visit the nearby Chaman too. Write letters to the CM. If even a hundred of us do so, the problem would get noticed.
    I worked there as a part of my training as a Clinical Psychologist. Recommend

  • http://gmail.com Iftekhar Khokhar

    Very pathetic & discouraging!!! Do whatever you like, the mindset of the staff concerned is not going to change. This is reflective of a miserable state of affairs, which has gone astray & derailed, and is rampant in this society. It appears DARUS-SUKOON has turned into a living hell.Recommend

  • http://whatprice.com.pk/ ali rizvi

    sad indeed… these so called dignitaries’ and celebrities’ visits are no help to the people in such places! rather a nuisance because of the clitter clatter adding to their miseries… had this sharief wanted some good to the people he should have atleast made sure he was really coming to darussukoon…Recommend

  • Sahrish

    @Iftekhar Khokhar:

    The mindset of these people reflect our mindsets in general. If something is wrong in our society, all of us are to be blamed, and we need to do something to fix the situation and not mark it beyond redemptionRecommend

  • Namra

    ‘The oldest member of the house was
    brought to this place after being
    diagnosed with epilepsy. She was
    otherwise a woman of sound mind. Now,
    23 years later, she has started to
    exhibit symptoms of schizophrenia,
    which is a severe form of mental
    disturbance.’

    A serious notice should be taken of this! Tell me where to complain…Recommend

  • Sane

    Is there any govt. institution runs well in this country. Same is with Darul Sakoon. Looters and plunderers with all moral corruptions have clutched this country.Recommend

  • Sahrish

    @Namra:

    Write a letter to the CM or you can complain to any person in authority if you have access to any, Recommend

  • Sahrish

    @Namra:

    you can write a complaint to CM. Email address is available on one of his websites. Recommend

  • Insaan

    Author “The woman’s torment was the result of sexual abuse which took place before she was brought to the institute,,,,,, Further probing revealed that sexual abuse was not uncommon at Dar-ul-Sukun. The oldest member of the house was brought to this place after being diagnosed with epilepsy. She was otherwise a woman of sound mind. Now, 23 years later, she has started to exhibit symptoms of schizophrenia, which is a severe form of mental disturbance.”

    Looks like this place is making people sicker then helping them. Why sexual abuse victim or epileptic are living in a residential psychiatric treatment facility in the first place.

    Please ask some TV news channel to do a story on this facility. Some time that can wake people up. Recommend

  • http://www.equality-insaaf.org Khalid Sarwar

    Please join us to stop abuse and exploitation in Pakistan
    http://www.facebook.com/equality.insaaf
    or
    http://www.equality-insaaf.org

    Thanks to all.Recommend

  • H

    @ Sahrish Ahmad

    Im a regular volunteer at Dar-ul-Sukun Karachi branch and i was shocked to read your article.I immediately brought it to Sister Ruth’s notice who is the head of the branch here,her reaction wasn’t any different from mine.According to her,their branch in Lahore has a small number of polio patients who are being looked after adequately by a small staff.Nothing you have shared in this article is true for Dar-ul-Sukun branch in Lahore.It is quite obvious that some other institute is using their name illegally.I would request you to please look into this matter urgently and clarify it with the Dar-ul-Sukun branch in Karachi.They are extremely upset and have been frantically trying to contact you since the past few weeks but it seems you are too busy to return their calls or reply to their emails.Please get in touch with Mr Morris at 03223161887 who is the manager operations at Dar-ul-sukun Karachi.Recommend

  • Sahrish

    @H:

    I just got off the phone with Mr. Morris. He clarified that he has been sending emails on the wrong address. Kindly, confirm that with him. In addition, he also mentioned that he does not have my personal number. This is the first instance of communication that I had with Mr. Morris, and I initiated it. For confirmation, please check with him.

    If you would look carefully, I have mentioned in the article that the Dar-ul-Sakun, where I worked was located within the premises of Punjab Welfare Society. Punjab Welfare Society is located in Township, Lahore, and it is a government owned institution.

    You said, and I quote:
    “According to her,their branch in Lahore has a small number of polio patients who are being looked after adequately by a small staff.”

    However, I have mentioned in my article that:
    “It is located within the premises of the Punjab Welfare Society, Lahore. It houses psychiatric patients, both male and female, in separate wards. ”

    It does not house children suffering from polio. Majority of the residents are in
    fact over the age of 30, and they have been suffering from a mental disability in some cases.

    Again, I would also like to bring to your notice that the Dar-ul-Sakun, where I worked as a trainee clinical psychologist, in located in Township, while Mr, Morris has clarified that his branch of Dar-ul-Sakun is situated in Samnabad, Lahore, and it is privately ran institute.

    The confusion can be attributed to the fact that there are TWO institutes working under the same name. Dar-ul-Sakun in Township is a subunit.Recommend

  • Sahrish

    @H:
    For details, I would be obliged if you would read through the article, and get in touch with Mr. Morris again.

    http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=20064\20\story20-4-2006pg7_36Recommend

  • Sahrish

    @H:

    I am sorry but the link I provided above might not open. For more information, kindly google:

    “Govt’s shelter home for mental patients in bad shape…. Daily Times”. This story appeared on
    Thursday, April 20, 2006

    It is a story on dar-ul-sakun (the one I have written about)Recommend