Was a woman with a learning disability kept in a cowshed in Namangan? - Dilmurad Yusupov
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Was a woman with a learning disability kept in a cowshed in Namangan?

Recently, a shocking video circulated on Uzbek social networks, which showed a disabled woman in a cowshed at sub-zero temperatures in Namangan city, Yuqori Rovuston mahalla. A local Internet media Namanganliklar.uz tried to find out the details of the case.

According to the woman’s relatives, they do not know who filmed the incident. According to them, she sometimes wanders around the yard on her own. Her brother said that she wandered into that cowshed, the door accidentally closed, it became dark, and she began to scream. She couldn’t get out on her own as her vision has also been deteriorating. At that time, the woman’s family, namely her brother, his wife and daughters, were at the local bazaar.

The woman’s name is Yulduzkhon Ziyatova. She is 47 years old and has a congenital learning disability. After the death of her father in 2017, she has been living with her brother’s family. She used to self-care, but now she cannot even go to the toilet herself. The video showed the brother’s wife, who laments that her husband refuses to take his sister to a psychoneurological dispensary because he promised his mother that he would not leave his sister. The woman notes that her daughters should get married. (In Uzbekistan if a household has a disabled person it may affect the opportunities of its members and the whole family may face stigma and discrimination).

The meeting, which was shown by the local media, was attended by the hokim (mayor) of the district, the chairman of the mahalla, the head of the police department and other officials. The woman with a learning disability underwent a physical examination, an X-ray, and a coronavirus test. According to the chairman of the mahalla, the woman will be placed in a psychoneurological dispensary in Andijan.

The journalist of Namanganliklar.uz online media used the word “aqli noraso” which is literally translated into Uzbek as “mentally retarded”. RFE/RL Uzbek service “Ozodlik” pointed out to one fact that Namangan officials might have missed one important detail in the first video.

A person who has carefully watched the video in which Yulduzkhon Ziyatova is indoors and cannot go outside can see a construction that looks like a makeshift bed, covered with brown floral fabric. This suggests that the disabled woman lived in this room, that is, in a woodshed.


Physiatric institution – the only solution?

“Ozodlik” further questions whether there was a need to place the woman in a psychiatric hospital, subjecting her to additional stress. Also in the video report prepared by the information service of the administration of the Davlatabad district, a doctor of the Namangan Regional Psychoneurological Dispensary says that she has not been registered in a psychiatric institution. The doctor says that Yulduzkhon Ziyatova, who was brought to the psychoneurological dispensary on the evening of November 23, underwent a medical examination. It was found that the woman suffers from “a severe form of oligophrenia since birth (a syndrome of a congenital mental defect, expressed in mental retardation due to brain pathology – Ed.)”.

According to the doctor, such patients should be under the social protection of the state, and they should be kept in psychiatric hospitals or in houses of mercy.

Importantly, as one parent of a child with autism in Uzbekistan told me in a private conversation:

“They [doctors at psychatric institutions] are all stuck in post-Soviet psychiatry. We do not have a diagnosis of autism and it is not given to adults and ‘experts’ set a diagnosis ‘schizo’ just because no doctor has done an academic research and defeneded a dissertation on this topic [autism].”

According to WHO estimates, one in 160 children worldwide has autism spectrum condition (ASC). Maybe Yulduzkhon also has autism? Who knows? Unfortunately, autism is still poorly understood in Uzbekistan, and only in 2010 autism was officially included in the list of ‘mental illnesses’ in the country.

Learning disability ≠ mental impairment 

I am a bit worried that Yulduzkhon’s condition will further deteriorate in the psychoneurological dispensary as all her life she lived with her parents until her father’s death and then moved to her brother’s place. I am also doubtful about the investigation of the Namangan officials as it seems that no one tried to understand Yulduzkhon and listen to her.

The biggest problem in this situation is that learning disabilities and mental impairments are still conflated in Uzbekistan and medicalised. At the same time, children and adults with learning disabilities are put into psychiatric institutions which restrict their right to live in the community with others. Women with learning disabilities in Uzbekistan are usually left behind as they are facing double discrimination based on gender and disability.

Limited support and further suspicions

Moreover, limited support services are available at the mahalla level except for a miserable disability benefit. The reason why she has still been kept in her brother’s house raises suspicions that probably Yulduzkhon’s disability benefit has been used by her brother’s family and not spent on her own needs. Therefore, there is a need for a detailed investigation of this shocking case to find alternative ways of support rather than putting her directly into the closed institution for patients with severe mental impairments.

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