Caste in Mental Health Service and Policy in Nepal

- Prakash BK

Discussion Type: Research Seminar Series | Date: 02 Jun 2024 | Time: 03:00 PM


2 June 2024/२० जेठ २०८१ (आइतबार, दिउँसो ३ बजे)
Research Seminar Series
Caste in Mental Health Service and Policy in Nepal
Prakash BK, Department of Anthropology, University of Notre Dame, USA

About the discussion:
“Chukusyolai khaima hola, madi bhayeu din, haijau din akhaba, kali pani akhaba loho?” It is a curse by one of my Gurung neighbors when she discovered that I was with her son inside her house. She was asking herself why Kamis were not wiped out by cholera and, instead, they still entered inside her home. I entered the woman's house at the request of her son to assist in fixing an electronic device. “You are not supposed to enter our home,” said her son (my friend) as well.

 I was entirely astonished hearing him say this. I couldn't raise my head in front of him. I felt as if I committed a big crime. I am not sure how, but I eventually returned home. For the first time, I felt my life was meaningless and worthless.  I began to hate being born in my community. I wished I was born as a non-Dalit and prayed that I could be reborn as a high caste. After coming home, I gave one punch to the wall of my room out of frustration and humiliation. Honestly, I wanted to die.

In my adolescence, I exhibited a set of behaviors and emotions that can be accurately described as “nihilistic tendencies.” These tendencies were characterized by a lack of belief in the inherent meaning or purpose of life, resulting in a sense of apathy and detachment from “others.” West (1993) describes that nihilism is a “disease of the soul" that leads individuals to experience feelings of "meaninglessness," "hopelessness," and "lovelessness" (p. 8). Additionally, Brown (2003) defines nihilism as a psychological state in which “individuals become their own worst enemy, actively working to destroy themselves” (p. 296). It should be noted here that the root cause of the nihilism during my adolescence was the caste, caste-based humiliation.

To resist humiliation and dehumanization, I later began to act like a high-caste person, a phenomenon similar to what is called passing with regard to acting as white by blacks in the West. I changed my surname, adopted a high-caste language, and embraced cultural traditions associated with higher castes. Scholars have termed this phenomenon as Sanskritization (Srinivas, 1957). My attempt of upgrading caste can be seen as a result of cultural racism, which influenced my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and had various impacts on my mental health (Harrel, 1999).

In this presentation, I will: a) theorize my own personal experience of caste and its impact on mental health, b) demonstrate how caste is overlooked in the mental health intervention developed and implemented by a NGO, and c) discuss the exclusion of caste from mental health policies.

- Prakash BK

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