Psychological Impacts of Discrimination on Socially Oppressed

India Jun 14, 2021

The caste system in India has been a fundamental aspect of the country's sociopolitical and economic structure for millennia. Dating from 1200 C.E. is often considered to be the oldest social hierarchy system in the world. A permanent oppressive social order, established by the mythical and biblical teachings of the ancient Hindu tradition and based on concepts such as the “purity '' of ancestry, the born belonging to hierarchically defined professional groups, and the merit of karma and dharma. Firstly, this complex and multi-layered hierarchical social system has a negative impact on all aspects of socio-economic progress and the psychological well-being of the lower castes.

Kerala, the southern state of India, was no exception to this system, and the effects on the quality of life and wellbeing of members of the lower caste community continue to affect them. Various authors (e.g. Dale, 1990; Jeffrey, 2016; Kurien, 1994) have pointed out that the caste system prevailing at the time in Kerala was much more repressive than in other parts of India. In addition, the state-endorsed all of the system's worst and most feared practices, such as untouchability, slavery, exploitation, humiliation, discrimination, and marginalization of the lower castes, but features were extended to include such practices as invisibility and air pollution from mere presence. The system was so strict that any transgression resulted in severe penalties, along with purification ceremonies, atonements, etc.

As a closed and rigid system based on the Holy Scriptures, the social status of the members and groups remained fixed and left no room for mobility or change in social status. Systematic discrimination and injustice were so deeply rooted and integrated into the fabric of the social order that they did not allow dissenting and protesting voices or dialogues, which makes it a classic example of a structurally violent society. Violence frozen in structures ”and a“ culture of legitimation for violence ”are important here, since it is precisely the structurally supported legitimation of violence in a highly repressive society that made caste oppression possible for centuries without resistance and protest. The most disturbing effect of such structural violence and silenced pain was that there were no viable means within the established social framework to express and externalize the trauma suffered.

In recent years, several studies have highlighted the profound effects of structural violence and intergenerational trauma and their negative impact on the health and wellbeing of collective victims across generations. Although the study by Evans Campbell (2008) presented intergenerational trauma in a different social context, the emphasis placed on the collective nature of the "complex trauma inflicted on a group of people who share a specific group identity or affiliation: ethnicity, nationality and Religion ”. and the "legacies of numerous traumatic events experienced by a community across generations" and there and societal responses to such events make it of great importance in the discussion here. This legacy and the persistence of trauma across generations is indeed a common theme in literature.

Despite the far-reaching effects of this intergenerational and collective trauma on the well-being of victims of marginalized and oppressed caste, there has been little academic or practical interest in studying or even discussing the psychological effects of caste-related trauma in this area in regular academic. A start for this, however, could be a recent interest in exploring collective trauma narratives, which is reflected in Dalit literature as anger, helplessness, violence, hopelessness, and suffering. Although the trauma of caste victims in India was not the focus of academic discourse, they experienced subjectively traumatic experiences and memories emerge in these poetic and autobiographical narratives that often reflect various symptoms like anger, sadness, fatigue, pain, despair, shame, chaos, loss of trust, etc.

The upper-caste atrocities seldom met with resistance or intolerance from the lower-caste, as they believed in the upper-caste hegemony as deeply rooted in a sacred ideology. So the humiliation, oppression, and trauma continued for thousands of years while the poverty was endured. , Forced labor includes child exploitation, deprivation of basic needs such as food and shelter, forced separation of children from their parents, denial of access to water and other public services, assault and rape, public lynching, persecution, etc. The absence of any Socially sanctioned means of expressing their grievances, protests, and disagreements often solidified and exacerbated the disempowerment and trauma of members of the lower caste as they suppressed their angry protests and internalized their worthlessness, lack of agency, and self-destructive beliefs.

At the individual and interpersonal level, the effects of such silenced trauma are profound, complex, and dynamic. If expression, healing, and integration are denied, trauma has a devastating effect on a person's ability to function and limits any sense of individual agency. the victim with a deep sense of loss and amplifies their shame, humiliation, and helplessness, thus promoting the inner breakdown of the self.

A disintegrated sense of self and identity often leads to a fragmentation of memories and a disconnection from one's own body. The wealth of scientific knowledge from contemporary trauma research informs us about the development and manifestation of these symptoms after traumatic experiences, either acute or chronic. Most importantly, these studies provide evidence of the far-reaching effects of raw stored trauma on the nervous system and the body. One of the pioneers in the field of somatic trauma treatment, Levine (1997), describes the body and brain responding with primitive states of struggle, flight, or freeze in response to an overwhelming or traumatic experience when the body engages the most primitive known response back. These fight, flight, or freeze-survival responses evoked by primitive brain centers as a result of a threat, however, are not just somatic responses; they also determine how one relates to the world. Thus the effects of trauma through repeated assertion and striving for expression and assimilation (Caruth, 1996) often manifest as violence against oneself or others in a tragic vicious circle.

On practical grounds in today’s society, a report by Human Rights Watch in January 2016 states that a Ph.D. student, Rohit Vemula, who was active in Dalit student bodies, died of suicide on campus after university authorities tried to expel him after denying him and other students promised scholarships. Vemula and four Dalit Ph.D. students were on campus in a dormitory to protest their expulsion for their actions as members of the Ambedkar Student Association, a national Dalit student association with local constituencies at public universities in India. Vemula decided to end his life. In subsequent Dalit protests against the characterization of Dalit activism as a reason for exclusion, according to Radhika Vemula, the student's mother, the university's stance was to deny that Rohit Vemula's suicide was due to caste discrimination. Radhika Vemula, along with colleagues from Rohit Vemula, took the opposite point of view. As pressure increased on the university due to its existing reputation as an "anti-Dalit" in its institutional practices, university authorities began to claim that the motive for Vemula's suicide was that he was a "troubled" person he was going through personally Problems. Therefore, the university directors used the students' personal aspects effectively. enables them to deny responsibility for structural discrimination and to wash their hands on institutional discrimination to avoid legal consequences under the Dalit protection laws.

The dialectic between disturbed individuals and structural violence should be the focus while studying these issues. Although global mental health studies have recognized student suicides in India as one of the leading causes of death among young Indians, most studies have not done a caste analysis. Not viewing personal problems as a test of structural violence or just the scope of psychiatrists, this study goes beyond psychiatric methods to understand suicide and the underlying role of discriminatory stress that affects the daily experiences of Dalit students in India shapes educational institutions.

As India is the world’s second-largest democracy,  it has more responsibility on it when it comes to the future of society. If the gap between upper caste literate society and lower caste illiterate remains constant the future of India will be gloomy. Equal chances for lower-caste people of thriving for Education should not be denied and rather than Societal level if a person starts questioning himself while living in society the change we are expecting will be easier to see. Though, one question remains constant should we focus on societal equality or social equity?

This article has been written by Prajakta Pargaonkar

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