NIMHR students and deputy registrar Mohd Ashfaq during an awareness program at Sehore railway station (Image source: @nimhr_sehore)

Draupadi’s mental condition had to be off, otherwise she would have objected to being disrobed in front of the entire court. She seemed to be a psychopath.

In a letter addressed to the PMO, students at the National Institute of Mental Health Rehabilitation (NIMHR) have made some serious accusations against Mohammad Ashfaq, the institution’s deputy registrar. In the letter dated December 16, 2022, Mohammad Ashfaq is accused of insulting the historical epic Mahabharata by poking fun at some of the characters while lecturing the students about mental health. Furthermore, students have accused him of unilaterally running the institute like a ‘madarsa’ and forcing his Islamic beliefs on the students. He has also been accused of harassment.

Speaking to OpIndia, Mohammad Ashfaq admitted that he conducts classes even though he is primarily a deputy registrar. Ashfaq, however, refuted the allegation levelled against him, calling them incorrect.

What exactly is NIMHR?

The National Institute of Mental Health Rehabilitation (NIMHR) is the country’s only institute of its sort. It is the result of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision. It was started in Sehore, Madhya Pradesh, in 2019. It is currently operated out of the old Zila Panchayat building. The institute’s new campus is being built on approximately 5 acres of land in Sekdakhedi village, Sehore district, along the Bhopal-Indore highway, at a cost of approximately Rs 180 crore. The first National Institute of Mental Health Rehabilitation in the country will have nine Departments and will conduct 12 courses to offer diploma, certificate, graduate, postgraduate and M.Phil degrees in the area of mental health rehabilitation. 

Currently, the institute offers three courses, namely:

  1. – Diploma in Vocational Rehabilitation Intellectual Disability (DVR-ID)
  2. – Diploma in Community-Based Rehabilitation (DCBR)
  3. – Certificate Course in Care Giving (CCCG)

DVR-ID is a one-year course, DCBR is two years, and CCCG is a ten-month course. Each course has 30 seats. The institute currently has more than 100 students. Approximately 60% of these are female students.

National Institute of Mental Health Rehabilitation (NIMHR) in the old Zila Panchayat building (Source: nimhr.ac.in)

Allegations levelled by NIMHR students

On December 16, 2022, some institute students wrote a three-page letter addressed to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). This letter was also submitted to Union Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Virendra Kumar Khatik. OpIndia also possesses a copy of this letter. The letter accuses Mohammad Ashfaq, NIMHR’s deputy registrar, of operating the institute arbitrarily, taking classes, misrepresenting historical Hindu characters and jeopardising students’ careers.

According to the letter, Mohammad Ashfaq also offers to provide undue benefits to members of his community in the surrounding areas using his clout and position at the institute. It has also been stated that the institute’s atmosphere was not like this prior to the appointment of Mohammad Ashfaq.

The letter added that Ashfaq has converted the ambience of the institute into a ‘madhouse’ due to his purported Islamic mindset. As a result, the students are said to be under a lot of ‘mental pressure.’

The letter, which did not mention any names of the students, concluded with a warning which read, “Immediate attention should be paid to the institute, otherwise it will become a total jihadi centre. He (Mohammed Ashfaq) threatens to ruin our future, so we are sending this letter to you without signing. Please save this national property from such Jihadis.”

Fingers raised at NIMHR director as well

The Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment oversees the National Institute of Mental Health Rehabilitation (NIMHR). Rajesh Kumar Yadav, a Joint Secretary (DEPwD) in the Ministry, is currently in charge of the institute as a Director. In May 2022, he was granted this position. According to the letter, Yadav has not visited the institute even once since he has been tasked with the responsibility. “Director Rajesh Yadav has never visited the institute,” said Deputy Registrar Mohammad Ashfaq. This is recognised as one of the primary reasons for Mohammad Ashfaq leading the institute without any checks.

According to OpIndia’s probe, Dr Prabodh Seth was in charge of NIMHR before Rajesh Yadav. Unlike Rajesh Yadav, he paid frequent visits to the institution and met with the local officials to make decisions regarding the smooth running of the institute.

OpIndia tried contacting Rajesh Yadav on his official number to know his views about the allegations levelled against him. When asked about these accusations, he hung up on us. We tried calling him several times after that but he couldn’t be reached. We have also emailed Rajesh Yadav about these allegations, to which he has not yet replied. OpIndia will update the report as soon as we receive a response from him.

NIMHR Deputy Registrar Mohammad Ashfaq’s reply to the allegations

In an interview with OpIndia, Mohammad Ashfaq, deputy registrar of the National Institute of Mental Health Rehabilitation (NIMHR), appeared to be oblivious to the letter addressed to the Prime Minister’s Office. “Eighty percent attendance is essential to appear in the examination. Some students do not even show up for class. Only such students, I believe, might have complained. It could have been discussed if they had sent the letter to the institute,” Ashfaq said.

Throughout the interview, Mohd Ashfaq displayed a keen interest in learning more about the students who had filed the complaint. He repeatedly stated that the complaint must have been made only by those students who had low attendance and were barred from taking the exam.

“It is upsetting to witness such an allegation against a government official,” he said. “How can someone issue an order without the consent of the relevant authority?” Ashfaq further bemoaned.

Ashfaq further noted that guest lecturer classes are held in the morning, which is when he took the lesson. When asked about the claim that he insulted the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata, Ashfaq said, “While taking a session on impairment and disabilities, I told the students that in our concept of disability, we have recognised blind Dhritarashtra as a monarch. Whatever I said was said with the utmost respect. I’m not sure how the students interpreted it. I don’t believe it is disrespectful to tell about our forefathers’ lives.”

National Institute of Mental Health Rehabilitation will look like this after the work is completed (Photo Credits: nimhr.ac.in)

What is the attendance controversy at NIMHR

When asked, Deputy Registrar Mohd Ashfaq did not specify the number of students at the National Institute of Mental Health Rehabilitation (NIMHR) who had been debarred from sitting for exams due to poor attendance. Our findings show that there are 11 such students. “The institute is under Mohd Ashfaq’s control,” a DVR-ID student informed OpIndia on the condition of anonymity.

The student added, “He embarrasses the students in public. He is not a lecturer, despite that, he comes in at any time of the day and sits in the classes. He continues to put pressure on the students.”

The student further said that though he is not among those with low attendance, he is amongst the students who sent the letter to the PMO.

OpIndia has also obtained information about a complaint made to the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister’s helpline. In this complaint, filed on December 25, 2022, the complainant said that he was barred from taking the examination despite having paid the full fees. He has also claimed that attendance was manipulated. We also have information about a similar complaint filed with the Sehore District Collector. We are not disclosing the identity of the complainants due to their request.

OpIndia also has details of the complaint made on the Chief Minister’s helpline in Madhya Pradesh. In this complaint, filed on December 25, 2022, the complainant said that he was barred from taking the exam despite having paid the full fees. He has also accused the authorities of manipulating attendance. We also have information about a similar complaint that was submitted to the Sehore District Collector. Due to their request, OpIndia is not revealing the identity of the complainants.

Is attendance the root of the controversy?

According to Mohammad Ashfaq, the students with low attendance are at the root of the controversy. However, based on some documents in OpIndia’s possession, the charges, appear to be completely baseless.

The fixed hierarchy of the institute is shown in the image below.

You may, however, look at a circular issued on September 27, 2022, and duly signed by the deputy registrar of the institute, Mohammad Ashfaq, which indicated how all departments, including academics, were under his supervision.

Below you can also see the order, in which the name of Deputy Registrar Mohammad Ashfaq is also mentioned as the chairperson of the Academic and Research Work Committee.

Below you can see an order dated December 21, 2022, issued by Deputy Registrar Mohammad Ashfaq. A contractual worker sacked from NIMHR in the month of December told OpIndia, “Mohammed Ashfaq started exploiting the employees straight after his appointment and eventually took over every department of the institute. Those who do not kneel before him are dismissed from their jobs. I had been working at NIMHR for two years when, one fine day, he suddenly sacked me. I have small children. How will I provide for my family? the perplexed ex-employee said.

The sacked employee further alleged that Ashfaq uses the institute’s resources for personal use. He said that he uses workers like him for his domestic work. The former further asserted that the deputy registrar also monitors the patients who come to the facility for psychiatric treatment. Notably, this accusation was also included in the student’s complaint letter sent to the PMO.

Speaking to OpIndia, Deputy Registrar Mohammad Ashfaq refuted the accusations levelled at him. He said, “It’s been six months since I joined the institute. A lot of work has been done to remove the shortcomings that existed. I have set a goal for myself which is to finish all the pending tasks and start the new facility by July 31, 2023. Additionally, I want to start the courses that we have scheduled.” Ashfaq also mentioned how he has to appoint non-teaching and non-teaching staff in the institute as per requirements.

Will PM Modi’s dream institute die due to carelessness?

Mohammad Ashfaq, the institute’s deputy registrar, has also been accused of running the organisation like a ‘madarsa,’ getting local Muslims to benefit from it and being in contact with radical Islamist organisations. These accusations we cannot corroborate. We attempted to call Union Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Virendra Kumar Khatik multiple times to know more about these accusations but were unable to reach him. We also sent him a letter, we will update the report once we receive a response.

Our findings, however, indicate that the level of attention required for this institution to flourish in accordance with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision is not being delivered. One reason for this appears to be director Rajesh Yadav’s apathy.

“Honourable Prime Minister wants us to become Vishwagurus,” Mohammad Ashfaq told OpIndia, adding that they are working to make it a world-class institution. “Our sole aim is to make it the largest and the best institute in the field of mental health,” added Ashfaq.

Mohammad Ashfaq also informed that he has been appointed as deputy director of the ‘Center for Disability Sports’ in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, adding that in such a scenario, the allegations against him must be probed. Additionally, the predicaments of the disgruntled students’ must also be addressed, given that only last month, the Government Law College in Indore, Madhya Pradesh was in news for promoting love jihad and religious extremism.

It may be recalled, that on Thursday, December 1, 2022, the Government Law College in Indore took six of its professors, including four Muslim teachers, off duty for allegedly promoting love jihad and other anti-social ideas among the students. The decision came after the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) accused these professors of being anti-establishment and encouraging negative anti-social thoughts and fundamentalism against the union government.

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