Freedom of expression

Why has a book featuring a mall been withdrawn by the publisher?

The author of a what could have been a controversial book suggests reasons why it did not make it to bookshelves.

Ghostwriting has taken on new meaning in the strangest controversy to break out in India’s publishing world. A shopping mall in Kolkata is believed to have prevailed upon a publisher to delete references to itself in a book just two days before the launch. Not just that, claims the angry author, the publisher has withdrawn the book altogether and returned her manuscript.

The storm is over Deepta Roy Chakraverti’s book, Bhangarh to Bedlam: Haunted Encounters, which claims to investigate unexplained occurrences, mysterious sightings and apparently unrelated chains of events in different parts of the country and in the UK – not through the tools of rationality, but in terms of the possibility that there are paranormal forces at work behind these events.

The book covers, among others, Lodhi Garden in Delhi, Marine Drive in Mumbai, some popular destinations in Kolkata – sites with allegedly paranormal activity, accidents and suicides. It also includes a chapter on a popular shopping mall in Kolkata, where a number of accidents and suicides have taken place in recent times.

And this is where a controversy has erupted, with the mall in question demanding that all references to it be eliminated from the book. According to Roy Chakraverti, a corporate lawyer by profession and a psychic investigator by calling, who is the daughter of the self-styled Wiccan priestess Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, the publishers obliged by calling off the publication of the book.

Neither the management of the mall nor the publishers responded to our questions. We spoke to Roy Chakraverti on the subject:

What was your publishers’ initial response to the subject of your book? Did they find anything controversial or anticipate trouble?
Initially the publishers were extremely keen, and accepted my manuscript within a day or so. They were very eager to go into this genre. They did not seem to mind anything controversial as long as I signed with them. Even during the making of the book, sometimes when I would ask them whether they were sure about some potentially controversial point, they would insist I go ahead.

In fact, regarding the mall story, they had said they would go to the bookstore in the mall there and ask for a reading of the book!

You are a legal professional. What precautions did you take while writing the book?
I drew all facts from newspaper reports or published material – that is why the book has a very large bibliography. There is also a disclaimer where I have made it clear that the psychic perceptions were my own observations and did not prove or disprove anything supernatural. In addition, I had talked to actual people who had witnessed certain incidents and been there. There were first-hand reports. Moreover, the publishers themselves put the manuscript through two different edits, and three rounds of readings. Their internal team was well versed with it. The manuscript was with them since last August or September. In March, at the time of final printing, I asked whether they would like to change anything, they insisted everything was perfect.

How and when did the publishers tell you about the threat?
They forwarded the email from the mall to me.

What does the mail say?
The email from the real-estate company to the publishers says that they have heard that the mall is mentioned in the book, and they want the name blacked out. They talk a lot about how it is such a big and popular mall, and including the name in the book may scare people and hurt their business.

 

Is there more to it than business interests?
Perhaps. I have often wondered if they are biased against me being a Wiccan. Or is it because I've spoken well of the ancient mystical tradition of the Sufis and a famed shrine nearby. Also, would it have made a difference if a man had written the book?

The story is about the poor workers who had died during construction or even in later years. The management had been criticised for allegedly trying to hush up the most recent and ghastly tragedy of January 2014, where workers hanging up bunting had crashed to their deaths from a height of 60 feet. Eyewitnesses had said that all traces were being removed as soon as the accident happened.


Did you consider deleting the chapter or dropping the name of the mall?
Not at all. There is a disclaimer and I have quoted reports that have already been published in mainstream media. Besides, I would expect the publisher to show some spine. Especially when the author is a debutante and the subject is as sensational.

What is your view on the incident?
The dark energy has its own power. I feel that this fiasco happened because there were one or two political entities in the background, which were afraid of a Wiccan woman gaining popularity. The old witch-hunt continues.

Would this deter you from taking up similar subjects in the future?
I’m writing my next!

Your mother, Ipsita had started her own imprint with the same publishers. What happens to the imprint now?
Ipsita has told the publishers that she is made of sterner stuff than them and has withdrawn from the Dark Rose imprint she had created with them.

 

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Removing the layers of complexity that weigh down mental health in rural India

Patients in rural areas of the country face several obstacles to get to treatment.

Two individuals, with sombre faces, are immersed in conversation in a sunlit classroom. This image is the theme across WHO’s 2017 campaign ‘Depression: let’s talk’ that aims to encourage people suffering from depression or anxiety to seek help and get assistance. The fact that depression is the theme of World Health Day 2017 indicates the growing global awareness of mental health. This intensification of the discourse on mental health unfortunately coincides with the global rise in mental illness. According to the latest estimates from WHO, more than 300 million people across the globe are suffering from depression, an increase of 18% between 2005 and 2015.

In India, the National Mental Health Survey of India, 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) revealed the prevalence of mental disorders in 13.7% of the surveyed population. The survey also highlighted that common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. Perhaps the most crucial finding from this survey is the disclosure of a huge treatment gap that remains very high in our country and even worse in rural areas.

According to the National Mental Health Programme, basic psychiatric care is mandated to be provided in every primary health centre – the state run rural healthcare clinics that are the most basic units of India’s public health system. The government provides basic training for all primary health centre doctors, and pays for psychiatric medication to be stocked and available to patients. Despite this mandate, the implementation of mental health services in rural parts of the country continues to be riddled with difficulties:

Attitudinal barriers

In some rural parts of the country, a heavy social stigma exists against mental illness – this has been documented in many studies including the NIMHANS study mentioned earlier. Mental illness is considered to be the “possession of an evil spirit in an individual”. To rid the individual of this evil spirit, patients or family members rely on traditional healers or religious practitioners. Lack of awareness on mental disorders has led to further strengthening of this stigma. Most families refuse to acknowledge the presence of a mental disorder to save themselves from the discrimination in the community.

Lack of healthcare services

The average national deficit of trained psychiatrists in India is estimated to be 77% (0.2 psychiatrists per 1,00,000 population) – this shows the scale of the problem across rural and urban India. The absence of mental healthcare infrastructure compounds the public health problem as many individuals living with mental disorders remain untreated.

Economic burden

The scarcity of healthcare services also means that poor families have to travel great distances to get good mental healthcare. They are often unable to afford the cost of transportation to medical centres that provide treatment.

After focussed efforts towards awareness building on mental health in India, The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF), founded by Deepika Padukone, is steering its cause towards understanding mental health of rural India. TLLLF has joined forces with The Association of People with Disability (APD), a non-governmental organisation working in the field of disability for the last 57 years to work towards ensuring quality treatment for the rural population living with mental disorders.

APD’s intervention strategy starts with surveys to identify individuals suffering from mental illnesses. The identified individuals and families are then directed to the local Primary Healthcare Centres. In the background, APD capacity building programs work simultaneously to create awareness about mental illnesses amongst community workers (ASHA workers, Village Rehabilitation Workers and General Physicians) in the area. The whole complex process involves creating the social acceptance of mental health conditions and motivating them to approach healthcare specialists.

Participants of the program.
Participants of the program.

When mental health patients are finally free of social barriers and seeking help, APD also mobilises its network to make treatments accessible and affordable. The organisation coordinates psychiatrists’ visits to camps and local healthcare centres and ensures that the necessary medicines are well stocked and free medicines are available to the patients.

We spent a lot of money for treatment and travel. We visited Shivamogha Manasa and Dharwad Hospital for getting treatment. We were not able to continue the treatment for long as we are poor. We suffered economic burden because of the long- distance travel required for the treatment. Now we are getting quality psychiatric service near our village. We are getting free medication in taluk and Primary Healthcare Centres resulting in less economic stress.

— A parent's experience at an APD treatment camp.

In the two years TLLLF has partnered with APD, 892 and individuals with mental health concerns have been treated in the districts of Kolar, Davangere, Chikkaballapur and Bijapur in Karnataka. Over 4620 students participated in awareness building sessions. TLLLF and APD have also secured the participation of 810 community health workers including ASHA workers in the mental health awareness projects - a crucial victory as these workers play an important role in spreading awareness about health. Post treatment, 155 patients have resumed their previous occupations.

To mark World Mental Health Day, 2017, a team from TLLLF lead by Deepika Padukone visited program participants in the Davengere district.

Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.
Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.

In the face of a mental health crisis, it is essential to overcome the treatment gap present across the country, rural and urban. While awareness campaigns attempt to destigmatise mental disorders, policymakers need to make treatment accessible and cost effective. Until then, organisations like TLLLF and APD are doing what they can to create an environment that acknowledges and supports people who live with mental disorders. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.