Accepted Paper:

Poverty, untouchability and mental health: some initial explorations  


David Mosse (SOAS)
Sushrut Jadhav (University College London)

Paper short abstract:

Ethnography and mental health disciplines combine to investigate the significance of caste identity in the pursuit of opportunity and mental well-being, and how caste humiliation (for Dalits) is constituted through routes which are psychological(self-worth), social (exclusion) and economic (poverty).

Paper long abstract:

Poverty and wealth are relational; so is mental health, but the links between the relationships producing poverty, and the networks within which mental illnesses are embedded, are difficult to decipher. In South Asia there is a further reported correlation between caste and indicators of poverty and mental ill-heath; but again the interlinked or mediating processes are poorly understood. Ethnographic research combined with mental health disciplines provide a means to investigate the significance of caste identity in the pursuit of opportunity and mental well-being, as well as the manner in which experiences of caste humiliation (in the Dalit case) are constituted through routes which are psychological (self-worth), social (exclusion) and economic (poverty). As a first step towards a framework of analysis we discuss two ethnographic contexts in which Dalit groups or individuals manage caste identities as a means to resolve dilemmas of socio-economic opportunity and personal/social well-being. In one, the stigma of being 'untouchable' shifts following conversion to Buddhism among Dalits in slums of Pune (Maharashtra). In the other, distress of exposure and humiliation are narrative turning points in the making of Dalit activists and of their development discourse which locates poverty in the denial of dignity. Seeing how the connection between economic wealth and mental well-being is central to Dalits whose coping mechanisms for life are shaped by social identities that routinely bring social rejection or stigma, and by strategies that equivocate between concealment, disclosure, public assertion, or 'doubling', provides an opening for exploring connections between poverty and mental health.

Panel P63
Economic wealth and mental health: questioning the paradoxes