Bhargavi Davar is a leading mental health activist in India and the founder of Bapu Trust which helps people with mental distress deal with often-abusive mental health systems. The Bapu Trust looks at mental and emotional well-being in a holistic way and does not simply reduce it to illness and disease.
The history of colonialism by the British has had a huge impact on mental health in India. Colonial rule created various oppressive systems. A new culture was forced onto a group of people who were economically broken and treated inhumanely. These factors still affect the mental well-being of individuals and communities in the country.
Women’s rights, spiritual freedom, and anti-colonialism are linked in India’s colonial history. The struggle for independence was also a fight for women’s rights and freedom from oppression. The freedom to practice one’s spiritual beliefs was taken away by colonial authorities, further complicating the issue.
When it comes to spiritual renunciation (leaving worldly concerns for the sake of spiritual life), women have always faced more difficulties than men. As for human rights, there is abuse both in traditional temples and hospital locked wards.
In hospital locked wards, human right violations include involuntary treatment, being locked up, physical and sexual assault, quality of mental healthcare, and forced medication. Bhargavi Davar’s mother Bapu was abused by psychiatry. Her choices to be a spiritual renouncer were treated like mental illness.
Now Davar’s organization Bapu Trust focuses on the urgent need for mental health reform in India. Her work and personal life, which is discussed in this interview, shows her commitment to deal with mental health challenges and promoting community development throughout Asia.
This is a brief synopsis of an interview that first appeared on Mad in America. The whole in-depth interview can be heard here.