As outrage spreads about Penguin India’s decision to pulp Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History, on pressure from a Hindutva group, the founder of an arts organisation mailed his copy of Franz Kafka’s The Trial back to the publisher. It was accompanied by a note that read, “Pulp this as well.”
“One had to make a point which was very concrete and material,” Anmol Vellani, founder of philanthropic organisation India Foundation for the Arts, told Scroll.in. “If you send back a book which you respect, it is a choice that you consciously make. This should matter to Penguin because you are their reader.”
Vellani outlined his plan of action in a series of Facebook updates. At the time of publishing, 53 people had shared his original status promising to mail in their favourite books to Penguin too.
“People are disappointed for two reasons," said Vellani. "One is that Penguin has a lot of muscle. It is one of the biggest publishers in the world and it has the capacity to fight legal battles. It has also historically stood up for authors and freedom of expression. Its responsibility as a publisher is therefore greater. If it were a smaller publisher, it would have mattered less.”
Vellani acknowledges that returning a single book is just a symbolic gesture. “We have to hurt them at the bottom line,” he said. “That means we as readers have to stop patronising them, we should stop attending their book launches, and authors, on whom Penguin relies for its sales, should also boycott them.”
Arundhati Roy, all of whose books have been published by Penguin India, is among the authors to criticise the withdrawn of 'The Hindus'. She wrote an open letter to Penguin declaring that she is no longer certain she will take her future works to them.
In 2009, the Pink Chaddi Campaign had adopted a similar strategy to Vellani's. After members of the Shri Ram Sene attacked women in a Mangalore pub, people across India mailed pink underwear to the headquarters of the Hindutva group on Valentine's Day. The campaign's Faceboook group had 57,000 subscribers before it was taken down.
"This campaign will have a longer gestation period," said Vellani. "It might be slow in the beginning, but as more people get to know about it, I hope Penguin will be forced to take notice."
Removing the layers of complexity that weigh down mental health in rural India
Patients in rural areas of the country face several obstacles to get to treatment.
Two individuals, with sombre faces, are immersed in conversation in a sunlit classroom. This image is the theme across WHO’s 2017 campaign ‘Depression: let’s talk’ that aims to encourage people suffering from depression or anxiety to seek help and get assistance. The fact that depression is the theme of World Health Day 2017 indicates the growing global awareness of mental health. This intensification of the discourse on mental health unfortunately coincides with the global rise in mental illness. According to the latest estimates from WHO, more than 300 million people across the globe are suffering from depression, an increase of 18% between 2005 and 2015.
In India, the National Mental Health Survey of India, 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) revealed the prevalence of mental disorders in 13.7% of the surveyed population. The survey also highlighted that common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. Perhaps the most crucial finding from this survey is the disclosure of a huge treatment gap that remains very high in our country and even worse in rural areas.
According to the National Mental Health Programme, basic psychiatric care is mandated to be provided in every primary health centre – the state run rural healthcare clinics that are the most basic units of India’s public health system. The government provides basic training for all primary health centre doctors, and pays for psychiatric medication to be stocked and available to patients. Despite this mandate, the implementation of mental health services in rural parts of the country continues to be riddled with difficulties:
In some rural parts of the country, a heavy social stigma exists against mental illness – this has been documented in many studies including the NIMHANS study mentioned earlier. Mental illness is considered to be the “possession of an evil spirit in an individual”. To rid the individual of this evil spirit, patients or family members rely on traditional healers or religious practitioners. Lack of awareness on mental disorders has led to further strengthening of this stigma. Most families refuse to acknowledge the presence of a mental disorder to save themselves from the discrimination in the community.
Lack of healthcare services
The average national deficit of trained psychiatrists in India is estimated to be 77% (0.2 psychiatrists per 1,00,000 population) – this shows the scale of the problem across rural and urban India. The absence of mental healthcare infrastructure compounds the public health problem as many individuals living with mental disorders remain untreated.
The scarcity of healthcare services also means that poor families have to travel great distances to get good mental healthcare. They are often unable to afford the cost of transportation to medical centres that provide treatment.
After focussed efforts towards awareness building on mental health in India, The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF), founded by Deepika Padukone, is steering its cause towards understanding mental health of rural India. TLLLF has joined forces with The Association of People with Disability (APD), a non-governmental organisation working in the field of disability for the last 57 years to work towards ensuring quality treatment for the rural population living with mental disorders.
APD’s intervention strategy starts with surveys to identify individuals suffering from mental illnesses. The identified individuals and families are then directed to the local Primary Healthcare Centres. In the background, APD capacity building programs work simultaneously to create awareness about mental illnesses amongst community workers (ASHA workers, Village Rehabilitation Workers and General Physicians) in the area. The whole complex process involves creating the social acceptance of mental health conditions and motivating them to approach healthcare specialists.
When mental health patients are finally free of social barriers and seeking help, APD also mobilises its network to make treatments accessible and affordable. The organisation coordinates psychiatrists’ visits to camps and local healthcare centres and ensures that the necessary medicines are well stocked and free medicines are available to the patients.
We spent a lot of money for treatment and travel. We visited Shivamogha Manasa and Dharwad Hospital for getting treatment. We were not able to continue the treatment for long as we are poor. We suffered economic burden because of the long- distance travel required for the treatment. Now we are getting quality psychiatric service near our village. We are getting free medication in taluk and Primary Healthcare Centres resulting in less economic stress.
— A parent's experience at an APD treatment camp.
In the two years TLLLF has partnered with APD, 892 and individuals with mental health concerns have been treated in the districts of Kolar, Davangere, Chikkaballapur and Bijapur in Karnataka. Over 4620 students participated in awareness building sessions. TLLLF and APD have also secured the participation of 810 community health workers including ASHA workers in the mental health awareness projects - a crucial victory as these workers play an important role in spreading awareness about health. Post treatment, 155 patients have resumed their previous occupations.
To mark World Mental Health Day, 2017, a team from TLLLF lead by Deepika Padukone visited program participants in the Davengere district.
In the face of a mental health crisis, it is essential to overcome the treatment gap present across the country, rural and urban. While awareness campaigns attempt to destigmatise mental disorders, policymakers need to make treatment accessible and cost effective. Until then, organisations like TLLLF and APD are doing what they can to create an environment that acknowledges and supports people who live with mental disorders. To know more, see here.
This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.