IN the last two years, mental health awareness has exponentially risen in India. We recognize the second week of October as mental Health awareness week. The date and concept borrowed from the West, but it is gradually gaining recognition in India. The data for the state of mental health of the majority of the population is startling too.
An estimated 150 million people across India are in need of mental health care interventions, both short and long-term, according to India’s latest National Mental Health Survey 2015-16. A study conducted by WHO, for the National Care of Medical Health, reveals that India is the most depressed country of the world, followed by China and USA. It also states that almost 6.5 % of the country suffers from some or the other serious mental disorder. The National Mental Health Survey of 2015-16, states that every sixty person needs some sort of help with mental health.
Though the WHO survey places the onus on lesser number of mental health professionals in the country, though the cost of the very few professionals that there are, is extremely high and unaffordable to a large population, and though there is an immense societal taboo in owning up one’s mental health condition and approaching a professional for it, or talking about taking therapy to peers, family, etc.
Though all of these are true, I suspect a fourth, very major cog in the making of this extremely depressed nation, which is that a very harsh, human-rights violating, communal casteist, transphobic, queer phobic and misogynist regime of a party ruling is the country by a majority for the last 4.5 years; a majority so sweeping that they basically have a say in every aspect of every individual’s life.
The BJP got elected and made government in the Lok Sabha in May, 2014. The BJP also has power, or shared power, in 16 states, which population wise is 51% of the population. (Citation: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.bloombergquint.com/politics/51-indians-now-live-in-bjp-ruled-states-down-from-2017-peak-of-71.amp)
In one time in 2017, BJP had governments, or shared power in the government, in 21 states, which was equivalent to ruling over 71% of the total Indian population.
BJP has a track record of institutionally, and through speeches of individual members of the party, being anti minority. According to a study by ADR and National Election Watch, there are hate speeches, BJP has the highest number of M.P.s and M.LA.s who have court cases related to hate speech against them.
How rampant is hate speech under the BJP can be estimated by these two facts: one, that according to NDTV, VIP hate speech skyrocketted by500% (citation:https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.ndtv.com/india-news/under-narendra-modi-government-vip-hate-speech-skyrockets-by-500-1838925%3famp=1&akamai-rum=off ) and secondly, there are recorded evidences of the CM of the largest populated State, Uttar Pradesh, with also the largest number of constituencies for Lok Sabha elections, Yogi Adityanath’s speeches against Muslims and these speeches are highly misogynist in nature.
What happens to such a country? A country that has a leadership so immersed in being anti minority and a country that sees a rise in legitimized, normalized hate speeches by political leaders. What will be the mental condition of the minority? The minority is being subjected to extremely harsh words that strike right at their identity. They are being told to go to a foreign country, when they see this land as theirs. They are being told they must convert to a majority religion if they want to stay in peace. They are being told they would be raped and killed if they do not comply.
And what happens to the community of women, who see rape threats in almost all of these hate speeches, who see their bodies as being inherently used as agents both in speech and in practise to forward some communal agenda? What happens to the community women when they see an eight-year old Jammu girl raped and the BJP sheilds the perpetrator and raise no voice for her justice too, just bear silent testimony to the violence on a girl from a minority community.
What would the OBCs, SCs and STs feel when they are denied reservation that was introduced to provide social justice, equal share and participation and representation of the backward castes, being diluted by a reservation for the upper castes, on the basis of low income? This is all evident of a very repressive, moving towards totalitarian kind of a government, which imposes things from the top, without much consideration for all members of the society. Whose words, decisions, policies, bills and acts are so wrought with hate for certain communities that these communities have to perpettually live in an atmosphere of fear, in search of defence, ready to give an explanation, and ready to fight.
It reduces self worth of people too. People shall be so invested in these daily statements and decisions by the government that has intended to harm them before, and can harm them now, that they may feel a withdrawal from their everyday work, career, or personal lives. They may feel more drawn to writing, speaking or acting in response to these events. Overall, this makes the minority communities much upset, unsettled, agitated, withdrawn and/or ready to defend oneself.
Also, what does it make a majority community feel? After all if a party wins by a sweeping majority, and also mental illnesses win in the same country by far more sweeping majority, how does this state of affairs effect the majority community that relates with the hate politics of BJP? Hate and anger, both have been recognised as probable causes of mental disorders. Both of these entail a disturbed state of mind, carrying a heaviness in mind that troubles and reduces other functions of the brain. Bob Livingstone, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, practicing for 22 years, writes that hating someone because they are different, performing hate crimes, or having beliefs of hate, like racism, homophobia or sexism, must qualify as a mental illness. (Citation: https://www.mentalhelp.net/blogs/is-hating-someone-because-they-are-different-a-mental-illness/)
What does it do to more neutral members of the population, or what it does to students studying these changes in society and polity. If there is discrimination against one section if the society, if one community is hunted and shamed, if unimportant things are politicized and fake issues are borne in order to further marginalize a marginalized community, if there is an ‘othering’ or alienating and hating of all identities which are not cis, hetero, upper caste, male, there is a general fear when the common perception turns against one’s own identity.
An identity that may not exist as a self-realized community but by attacks on subsequent levels that threaten them, is constructed as one. For example students have seen a consequent cut in funds, in seats, an attack on free speech and free research, fake news against research scholars and student activists, that it has made them realize that it is a subsequent, systematic attack on education, especially social sciences education and research. Therefore sections which were not radicalized before, stand a chance to be a victim of hatred any time, the arrows can turn towards them in no time. Secondly, being subjected to hate speech in metros, trains, rickshaws, waiting areas, etc can perturb anyone. So it can be concluded that there is a general atmosphere of unrest and agitation in the air, that effects everyone.
A coercive, repressive, discriminating party in a huge majority of power has been causing a serious effect to the mental health of the population of India and it is going unnoticed under large heroic displays of pride, like the world’s highest statue. It shadows into a country struggling with illnesses in the mind, trying to make sense of what is causing this increasing fall of mental well-being that data reveal. In a very discreet sense, power is crawling quietly up the nerves of people and troubling them from within, a kind of crime that is going unchecked, unrecorded, unreported, and even un-understood.
The writer is Research Scholar, Gender Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.