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Caste and Mental Health in India: A Content Analysis

Ms Priya Pandey, MPhil Scholar, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India


In 2015, World Health Organization came out with a report on mental health, stating that some communities are at greater risk of mental disorders than others. Groups highly susceptible to social, cultural and economic disadvantages have high chances of continued marginalization throughout life. In the Indian context, the Dalit community is the most susceptible and oppressed that continues to bear the brunt of the dwija caste's barbaric cultural and religious practices. Caste has survived for more than a thousand years with a legacy of inter-generational oppression of the Dalit community. Legitimized by the Hindu religious texts, caste is assigned by birth and remains unchanged throughout life. Despite aberrations and protests against the practice of caste, it continues to be a guiding principle for social functioning. Initially, caste has been undertaken as a subject of research in the disciplines of anthropology and sociology. The relevance of studying caste has extended to a wide range of contemporary disciplines like Women's Studies, Film Studies and Cultural Studies. Caste has been a recent phenomenon in the research domain of Psychology. Very few researches have been conducted on caste and its psychological dimensions in India. Corona restrictions have limited the study's locus, which is fixed on the psychological effects of caste on the Dalit community. The data used for the analysis is secondary. Caste in itself is a psychological construct based on identity formation and identity assertion by the Brahminical ideology. The functioning of caste relies on the dominant status of dwija castes by initiating the psychological fear of God and extended illiteracy for generations among the Dalits. The persistent threat to dignity and life affects the mental health of the Dalit community, specifically the woman. Even though the research is conducted on the social factors influencing mental health, caste is barely counted as a factor influencing the mental health of an individual or community. The lack of study on psychological aspect of caste reflects the peripheral position of marginalized castes in health sector. Access to healthcare is the basic rights of every citizen. The insufficient amount of study on caste in psychology also reflects the dwija ignorance of Dalit sufferings. Therefore, the study of caste from a psychological perspective is indispensable. This paper intends to focus on the importance of studying the caste from a psychological perspective. The paper is divided into five parts. The first part will be the introduction of caste and its psychological construct. The second part will discuss the caste and its effects on mental health in the framework of Social Identity Theory by Henri Tajfel and John Turner. Further, the third part will discuss the neglect of caste and mental health by researchers and policymakers. The fourth part will discuss the challenges to psychological consideration of caste, with the fifth part being the conclusion. The paper also brings up the caste-gender interlink concerning mental health.

Keywords: caste, mental health, Dalit, psychological, Social Identity Theory.

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