top of page

Karachi's ghost women; the forgotten "mad women"



A couple of months back I came across a page on instagram where this digital artist illustrated artwork titled “Karachi’s ghost women”, showing women trapped behind the gates of Bilquis Edhi center in Karachi. There was no caption explaining the artwork and I was curious to know the story behind it. I searched and found a documentary on youtube uploaded this year and it was a heart wrenching watch to say the least.


Asia’s largest Asylum is located in Karachi for women. The Edhi foundation has been administering this Psychiatric facility under the name “Bilquis Edhi House”. It is the only Psychiatric facility in Pakistan that offers free services to its patients. This facility consists of 1,700 women mainly from the lower socio-economic class, each having their own reasons to be admitted. The disturbing part is that many of these women are not mentally ill, rather they get admitted against their will due to them being victims of violence perpetrated by their own family. These women are beaten and mistreated by their husbands, stigmatised by their own families and in-laws. Many women who live in the Asylum are cut off from family ties, as they are blamed and bear the brunt of their marriage failing. The people outside consider them as being “locked away” like ghosts, hence the name “Karachi’s ghost women”.


The Head of Bilquis Edhi house, Dr Naseem Atiq, said “Many women who are currently in the foundation reach a point where they cannot cope with the abuse anymore, and they develop personality disorders. In the end, they can't be kept at home anymore”. She also stressed upon how many of these families are ignorant of mental health issues as they do not consider it an illness worth consulting a doctor or therapist. The facility itself lacks in providing access to proper treatment and care for these patients, as they are kept in cramped, unhygienic and cruel conditions. Not enough beds are provided for these women, the sewage systems are not well maintained, many patients are left neglected and there is a lack of well trained qualified doctors. Many women are left untreated for years in this facility, the numbers keep growing to a point that it has become a “madhouse” for them, where many wish to flee and return to their families.


In the documentary I remember two prominent cases, one is of Nadjma. She was brought to the centre by her husband in 2003 as he had considered her a burden as her mental health was deteriorating by the abuse he perpetuated himself. After 12 years of living in the facility, she was well enough and was brought back home by her caretakers from the foundation. She met her mother who could not recognise her, and upon asking whether she wanted to keep her daughter, she refused and said “she's useless, she can't work in the house, no man would want her”. Nadjma was shattered as her own mother did not want her around after her constant efforts pleading to be home again.





















Another devastating example is of Nazish, whose family beat and starved her. She was in the facility for 19 years. In an interview she expressed how loneliness, neglect and the poor treatment facilities and living conditions made her overall well being worse, as she wished to be free from the confinement of these four walls.





From this documentary we can draw a conclusion that there is no accountability, recognition or understanding of domestic abuse, mental health issues and training of health workers. Our establishment’s lack of prioritising women’s health and safety leads to these devastating stories of women, especially in economically and socially disadvantaged communities, having to struggle just for existing.


Heres the link for the documentary: https://youtu.be/jfTqYDCqX0k?si=x4b_fnfynYC1EeV7




42 views13 comments

Recent Posts

See All

13 Comments


Neiha A. Siddiqui
Neiha A. Siddiqui
Dec 01, 2023

The observation of Dr. Naseem Atiq highlights the critical need for a paradigm shift in social views about mental health. The terrible example of Nadjma demonstrates the severe societal neglect these women face, as they face not just assault but also rejection after potential recovery. The shortcomings in the asylum's architecture exacerbate their suffering, giving a gloomy picture of the difficulties these women face in finding consolation and understanding. This story is a call to action, encouraging a concerted effort to deconstruct the cultural systems that restrict these women to the shadows, prolonging their ghost-like existence.

Like

The terrible situation facing the women confined to Karachi's Edhi House illuminates the hard reality that they must endure. The portrayal of "Karachi's ghost women" captures the eerie tales of these people, who suffered from mental health issues, familial abuse, and social neglect. The painful cycle that these women go through—from being abused to being viewed as burdens to finally being abandoned in subpar facilities—is made clear by Dr. Naseem Atiq's observations. Like Nadjma's story, the documentary's narratives reveal the ingrained societal problems that prolong these women's suffering and call for immediate attention and systemic change. In order to provide these women with a chance at a better life, can this society ever end this cycle of abuse and neglec

Like
Annum Shehryar
Annum Shehryar
Dec 01, 2023
Replying to

Given our government's lack of prioritization of women's safety and well-being due to the ignorance around what constitutes domestic violence and what does not, I believe that there is a possibility for change, but it will take time. Karachi's ghost women is a much-neglected issue as the documentary itself does not have alot of views therefore many are not even aware of how Karachi's largest asylum consists of these harsh conditions. I believe that with more media coverage and awareness organisations like NGOS can help facilitate these women and more pressure would be added on governmental level to take a step for these grant justice to these women

Like

Reading about the circumstances of these "Karachi's ghost women" was both heart-wrenching and eye-opening. It's a stark reminder of the systemic issues surrounding mental health, domestic abuse, and the societal stigma attached to them, particularly in economically and socially disadvantaged communities.

The personal stories of Nadjma and Nazish are particularly moving, illustrating the complex web of familial neglect, societal stigma, and inadequate mental health care. These narratives humanize the broader issue, making it more relatable and impactful. What I like most about your post is its unflinching honesty in portraying the harsh realities faced by many women in such facilities. It's a crucial conversation that needs more visibility and awareness. The post not only informs but also challenges the reader…

Like
Annum Shehryar
Annum Shehryar
Dec 01, 2023
Replying to

I agree with you! It feels like a hopeless cause especially when you see more documentaries on other asylums and rehabilitation centers and their unkept conditions leading towards the deterioration in the health of multiple patients. We also get to see the sad reality of women who are economically dependent on their husbands through marriage as it is the only way they have been taught to live.

Like

Mahnoor Zafar
Mahnoor Zafar
Dec 01, 2023

This blog post truly saddened me and the revelation that domestic abuse is often concealed behind the facade of mental health issues is shocking. It highlights the urgent need for Pakistan to address both domestic abuse and mental health with the seriousness they deserve. The institutions responsible need to take strict measures against those who coerce women into such places, including the men responsible and the families of the victims. I strongly feel the prevalent institutional indifference in Pakistan is also alarming: The apparent lack of standards in these institutions indicates a broader issue. The root of the problem seems to be the societal attitude towards mental health and domestic abuse, often viewed through a lens of misogyny and patriarchy,…

Like
Annum Shehryar
Annum Shehryar
Dec 01, 2023
Replying to

I do believe that even though it seems like a lost cause, change is still possible as long as there are communities of people who are motivated to bring about that change. Unfortunately, these issues revolve around patriarchal notions leaving the victims voiceless as they do not have the agency and safety to stand up for themselves. With more media coverage, protests and awareness campaigns, there needs to be added pressure and prioritisation towards the wellbeing of the women and marginalised communities

Like

I am utterly shook to the core reading this horrifying reality for many of the women, it makes my heart ache to see that under the name of "Balqis Edhi" who as a righteous philanthropist began this initiative there is still not a safe haven for many of the victims. I had heard of this facility but didn't know of the greater degree of the mental health conditions being treated at it, to think how stigamtized "psychiatry" and "mental health" still is even if it concerns our very own is an eye opener to say the least of the systemic problems of society as a whole. These women suffer through emotional scars so deep that they flow into its darkness…

Like
Annum Shehryar
Annum Shehryar
Dec 01, 2023
Replying to

I feel you, it was quite heart-shattering when i found out how there was lack of support of these women's families and the way even their mothers would neglect them just for experiencing mental health issues that are not even their fault, as it has been perpetuated either their husbands or male figures in their families. I believe that expert personel is required, we need trained professionals and doctors who can help rehabilitate women and to teach them how to sustain themselves. These women deserve to have access to facilities and the education they need towards independence

Like
Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page