Mental health and caste


Divya Kandukuri

divya kandukuriI have been thinking of writing this piece since the day I came to know about my mental health diagnosis as BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder). I knew that there was something that was pulling me down each day but I couldn't quite name it, nor did I know the fact that it was a medical condition. From my own experiences I have realised that mental health of a lower caste person is not considered important; you are often told 'to be thick with your emotions when you are from the community'. People, including therapists, have told me that caste oppression is a brutal fact and you have to make peace with it.

In this article I want to discuss a few things that I have faced problems with, such as the language of mental health, access to medical care, finding therapists who understand structural oppression, and the importance of community healing. I grew up in a small town where there was no language of mental health, therapy and counselling. Neither did I have monetary and other resources to access them. As we all know, there are only two categories in our towns and villages: Mad people and sane people. People are sent to asylums, not therapists.

When we enter academic spaces or workspaces away from home, there begins the real journey. Of oppression. Of mental trauma. Of identity crisis. I was in supposedly India's top college — Lady Shri Ram College for Women — but in reality, it is a manufacturer of traumatic beds for students from marginalised sections. This holds true for every Indian university, for that matter. "Look at your English", "Are you from the reserved quota?", "How can you not know about such a popular series?" These are some of the comments that I got to hear very often. The class had a clear-cut division — the elite Delhiites, the elite non-Delhiites, and the invisibles.

I tried to push myself and mingle with everybody but had to step back every time. I was bullied by my seniors and friends for even silly things like not going to 'college trips' with them even after I said I couldn't afford the expenses. And of course, by the Brahmin Bania professors who favoured 'specific' students, and wouldn't let me finish my PPT on 'manual scavenging and caste'. There was a specific incident that shook me: once, the Principal of Lady Shri Ram college when students complained about the inefficiency of specific teachers said, "What can we do, we have to recruit professors from SC/ST/OBC quota according to rules."

Going to the classes was a challenge every day. There was a time when I shut myself in for a month in my hostel room. If it weren't for the little Ambedkarite group that we had formed in the college, I wouldn't be here writing this. I know that thousands of students are going/went through the similar horrifying experiences. But my disorder didn't start in LSR, it was there since childhood. However it was because of LSR that it became drastic. I have faced horrifying experiences of caste discrimination in school but it took me more than a decade to understand what was going on with me. The reasons can be summed up as: (1) No awareness of mental illness, (2) no language of medical care/seeking help, (3) unaffordable medical care.

One cannot and should not talk about mental health in isolation. One has to look at the sociological, that is, caste and class dynamics of it. Since the discussion around mental health is a trend in white/ upper caste spaces, as they tend to love romanticisation of the pain (by saying this I am not nullifying your pain but just stating the facts); the moment Bahujans speak about their health issues, they become a troll or it's tagged as 'imitation'. Please understand that, OUR STRUGGLES ARE AS REAL AS YOURS OR MORE REAL THAN YOURS. Most importantly, they are very different from yours. To elaborate: the very basic treatment for trauma after sexual abuse/violence varies. The way legal/individual support systems function in favour of the survivor differ depending on the social and economic capital of the person. Now imagine the depth of struggles that are not visible, not explicit.

Finally, when I gathered courage and went to a doctor, they said, "You should stop blaming all the time and instead work hard." I have changed multiple therapists and doctors since then only to end up meeting more queerphobic and casteist doctors. We need doctors/therapists/healers who understands what structural oppression is and how it feels to live with it everyday. But, even if we manage to find one, how will we pay Rs. 1500/- (that's the average price) per session.

What now then? How did I manage to get up and work each day now? 1. Because I am able to seek medical care now with the help of concerned people in my life. 2. I realised that it is not an individual struggle but can be healed with community efforts. Picking up each other, healing together, not shaming those in need of help or on medication, BUILDING STRONG SUPPORT SYSTEMS for the community is something that is needed right now. I request all my fellow Ambedkarites, that all of us have differences, we can discuss/debate, but please remember that we have nothing but us. Stay. Stay together and for each other.

Thank you so much for reading. I hereby take this opportunity to announce about the "The Blue Dawn" mental healthcare group, for all the Bahujans in pain and in need of help. This is going to be a Google group where all of us can share, talk and seek help. Please write to the email id provided below. And you can also mention if you don't want your identity to be revealed.

Also, if you are a mental health professional and identify yourself to be sensitive enough with structural oppression and can provide affordable healthcare, please write to us.

I invite all the activists, counselors, students, doctors, professors, etc, from the community to be part of this group and help each other heal. Jai Savitri! Hul Johar! Jai Bhim!

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This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (in case if you want your identity to be confidential).



Divya Kandukuri is a freelance journalist who majorly works on the intersections of caste, gender and mental health.

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