Lost in Paradise: The Chained-Up Mentally Ill of Bali, Part 1

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Karin Kuntz, May 10, 2013. (Photo Gallery).

Not far from the glistening beaches of Bali, mentally ill people are kept in chains or locked up in small shacks. Locals simply don’t know what else to do with them. But psychiatrist Luh Ketut Suryani has made it her job to set them free … //

… A Shack Next to the Cowshed:   

  • On this morning, Suryani drives to the northern part of the island. The roads circle around like the patterns on a snail shell, with rice terraces in various shades of green to the left and right. The palm trees are shrouded in fog, and it smells of rotten fruit and soil. The sun is high in the sky when she arrives at her destination near the mountain village of Lovina Beach.
  • Six families live there, together with their pigs and chickens. And then there is Komang, whose right wrist has been attached to a one-and-a-half-meter (five-foot) chain for the last eight years. The other end is attached to a post, in a shack next to the cowshed.
  • Komang, 26, is naked, cowering inside the hut. She is singing a song in a high-pitched voice. She pounds her fists against the wall. Perhaps she is trying to drive out the voices in her head. She also tries to drive out Suryani, who is standing in front of her door, next to a box of drugs. Suryani, perspiring, remains motionless. Eventually she says: “Psst, my child, it’s okay.”
  • The windowless hut, all two square meters (about 22 square feet) of it, is made of concrete. There are several items on the floor: a pink mat, a pair of underwear, a wooden plow, a toothbrush, a comb, a tape measure, an oil can and a nail brush. A bee’s nest hangs from the ceiling. There is a trail of ants next to the mat.
  • Komang hasn’t bathed in two months. She is unable to express what she thinks or what she needs. But when Suryani looks at her face, Komang returns her gaze.
  • “Komang is always naked,” says the brother, whose body is muscular from hard work. He and his sister used to play together by the river and hide in the fields, and when Komang was afraid at night, he would hold her hand. He was the one who chained his sister when she ran away naked.

An Evil Spirit: … //

… Losing Hope in Recovery:

  • Suryani’s mission on behalf of the chained began when several bombs exploded in the village of Kuta in 2002 and 2005. She was director of the department of psychiatry at Udayana University in the capital Denpasar at the time. She had heard that suicides had been on the rise in villages after the bombing so she decided to travel into the hinterlands to investigate the causes. Although her effort was unsuccessful, she found a confused man attached to a chain next to a chicken coop.
  • She had never seen anything like it. “Why do you do this?” she asked. The relatives told her what it was like to lose a person, and then to lose hope in his recovery. They said that the chain was the only solution they could think of.
  • Suryani, witnessing the mentally ill in chains, in her island paradise, was so horrified that she founded the Suryani Institute, a private practice in Denpasar. Using the money she had earned treating affluent patients, including tourists, she hired seven employees. She sends them to two of the nine Balinese districts, one in the north and one in the east, which are most afflicted by poverty. Their mission is to track down the chained mentally ill. When they find one they call Suryani and she gets in her SUV. They found Komang in 2008.
  • On this particular day, Suryani is standing in front of Komang’s hut for the 38th time. “What have you eaten?” she asks. Komang continues to sing. Suryani believes that Komang suffered a trauma, but she doesn’t know what caused it. She has to assemble her diagnosis like a puzzle. Perhaps it was sexual violence, or a genetic defect. The family claims she ate poisoned food. “Komang didn’t love her husband,” says the mother. The gods, she explains, gave her this affliction as a punishment.
  • Suryani often diagnoses schizophrenia, both manic and bipolar. The word feels like a catchall for everything that can’t be explained. But perhaps the diagnosis isn’t really that important for the patients, especially given that therapy is hardly an option under these circumstances.
  • Suryani prescribes several drugs for Komang: 1.5 mg of fluphenazine, 2 mg of trihexyphenidyl, Sakaneuron, a neuroleptic agent against hallucinations, a drug to treat motor disorders and vitamin B.

(full text).

Part 2: Government Attempts to Treat the Ill.


Who Owns Gender? on Trouble and Strife, by Delilah Campbell, May 9, 2013: reflections on the deeper meaning of recent conflicts between feminists and transgender activists;

Margaret Thatcher, Then and Now, on Trouble and Strife, by Emma Wallace, April 27, 2013.

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