Can Psychology Truly Support Social Change In India?

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  • The disciplines of psychology do not address issues of social injustice in India.
  • Scholars are looking for ways in which the disciplines can aid social change.

Recently, Indian scholars have questioned the silence psy-disciplines (psychology and psychiatry) have when it comes to issues of social injustice in marginalized groups.

Referencing the recent farmers’ protest against the draconian farm laws, they show how social injustice is overlooked by psy-disciplines. Their professionals have been criticized for not being fully involved in critiquing the arbitrary neoliberal capitalist policies that severely impact farmers’ mental well-being.

India, as a country, has seen large scale protests from the farming community since the early 1990s. Most of the grievances arise from privatization and state policies, which reduced agricultural income and increased indebtedness. This has been aggravated by state-sponsored large-scale intensive agriculture.

The new changes have impacted the farmers, transforming their life, identity, and work. Many small farmers are driven to the brink of financial ruin, psychological distress, and suicide.

Most psychiatric journals in India do not cover farmer suicides and deaths. The few that do, however, are influenced by the West’s tendency to locate causes of any issue within the individual rather than the system.

As a result, the loss of lives in the resistance is medicalized. The deaths are seen as casualties of farmers’ mental health and not results of systematic state oppression. Instead of rectifying the main cause of their suffering, they are simply urged to address their poor mental well-being by a number of mental healthcare services.

However, despite the criticism, the scholars have suggested ways in which the psy-disciplines can become liberating and rights-based. In this process, these can be both witnesses of social injustice and voices of social change.

Sudarshan R. Kottai, a philosopher at Christ University in Bengaluru, comments on the links between mental health, human rights, and social justice. He explains, “Psy-disciplines cannot remain apolitical in their quest to be ‘scientific’.” The disciplines should highlight the crucial roles played by activism, resistance, collective understanding, and empowerment for realizing mental well-being for all.

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