Sundram Fasteners Lecture Series 2020

Mental Health,Culture, and Identity: Focus on Indigenous Communities in India

Indigenous people contribute to 5% of the global population and include groups such as Native Americans, Australian Aboriginals, Aunis (Japan), Saami (Sweden), Pygmies (Central Africa), Mayans (Central America), Adivasis (India) to name a few. As a result of their choices, lifestyles, occupations, rituals, practices, and beliefs and through the perpetuation of simplistic or negative stereotypes by dominant groups including settlers and colonizers, their narratives have been inauthentic, falsified and largely unidimensional. 

India is home to 8.6% Adivasis (adi-beginning, vasi-resident) who live predominantly in the states of Telangana, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Maharashtra, West Bengal, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Tribal people contribute to 1% of the population in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Adivasis are clustered as Scheduled Tribes (legally and constitutionally), but constitute 200 distinct groups and speak over a 100 different languages. 

Indigenous people, sadly, are also one of the most exploited populations in the world that have been subjected to barbaric acts of cruelty, dislocation, forced conversions, and complete annihilation of local culture and practices. They continue to live in a state of marginalization and deprivation and contribute to 15% of the world’s poor. As described by David Maybury-Lewis, Indigenous People are “groups that have been conquered by people racially, ethnically or culturally different from themselves. They have thus been subordinated by or incorporated in alien states which treat them as outsiders and usually as inferiors. The salient feature of indigenous peoples then, is that they are marginal to or dominated by the states that claim jurisdiction over them”. In India, 70% of scheduled tribes live below the poverty line and in difficult circumstances. This year’s lecture attempts to address a few concerns around the mental health of indigenous groups. 

The first of the series featured a discussion between Prof. Andrew Wilford, anthropologist and author, Cornell University, and Mr. S.M. Vijayanand, Chair, Sixth State Financial Commission, and former Chief Secretary, Government of Kerala. 

Andrew Wilford has been involved in Tribal Studies in the Nilgiris district, Tamil Nadu, in various capacities across decades, and has made noteworthy academic and public policy contributions through his work. He is also a Juror for the prestigious Infosys Science Prize. Mr. S.M. Vijayanand has been a key driver of change in Kerala in the Attapadi Block (Palakkad District) whose residents are primarily members of tribes, through his efforts to make healthcare and education more accessible.

Watch the Lecture Here