It’s December 21 today, the winter solstice. We will experience the longest night of the year, it seems uncanny that darkness continues to follow us even after we’re more than nine months into the pandemic. Aristotle said that human beings are inherently political animals, and this year was witness to it. Our lives are inextricably linked with the politics of the world we live in. We saw massive uprisings across the world in support of #BlackLivesMatter after the killing of George Floyd due to police brutality and most recently the worldwide support that has been trickling in for the Farmers’ Protests happening across India against the new farming bills introduced by the Modi-led government. We are united by a common thread of our shared humanity. A person cannot be healthy in a vacuum, so when the world around is in constant upheaval what happens to our mental health?
This weekend I was reading Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. It reminded me of the hierarchy that persists in our society, whether it is the caste system in India or the race system in America. It has been noted that positions of power are, almost always, occupied by the dominant caste. For instance, a white cis-gendered man is making laws about women’s choices. Not only does this reinforce power dynamics by showing those on the lower rungs that their most personal choices are controlled by those above them, but also takes away their agency. For instance, Rohit Vemula, belonging to a lower caste in India, “died and left a letter with proof that he was institutionally harassed, but newsrooms simply put his death down to ‘depression’.” (source) In the show This Is Us, Randall Pearson stops going to his white therapist because she doesn't understand his blackness; she, as a member of the dominant caste, will not understand the structural violence, intergenerational trauma, and oppression. We belong to a world that is built on the edifice of discrimination, we cannot afford to look at someone’s well-being in isolation from the institutions and society that surrounds them at all times.
This year has been hard for all of us. But it has been especially hard on the marginalised. New York Times noted that African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately. In India, the migrant labor were treated in deplorable ways: sprayed with pesticides, made to walk in the sweltering peak of Indian summers (which also led to some people dying), and an absolute absence of their well-being from policies. As educational institutions shift to an online mode of education, there are blanket assumptions regarding students’ home environments are conducive to learning and stable internet connection. They fail to realise that the lines between class hours and rest are blurred, with students taking classes in different timezones, exams spanning days instead of hours. There is one common theme: students are fatigued, especially those for whom being home means looking after their younger siblings or working jobs to make up for the loss of a job faced by another family member.
In one of its Op-Eds today, New York Times reminded me of the paradox of the winter solstice. “The winter solstice marks the point in time where the generative and creative powers of our universe start to return and grow again. It is the other end of a dyadic power of yin and yang that balance and rebalance each other every cycle through the seasons.” The great irony of winter is that the moment darkness is greatest is also the moment light is about to return. Each year the winter solstice comes with the promise that the next day will be brighter. There is something comforting in knowing things might (read: will) get better. But as people who can find the silver lining, we need to actively work for those who can’t. “In a world where being male or female, light or dark, immigrant or native-born, would have no bearing on what anyone was perceived as being capable of. In a world without caste, we would all be invested in the well-being of others in our species if only for our own survival, and recognize that we are in need of one another more than we have been led to believe. We would join forces with indigenous people around the world raising the alarm as fires rage and glaciers melt. We would see that, when others suffer, the collective human body is set back from the progression of our species" (Caste by Isabel Wilkerson). We need to extend our support to those who need it. We need to advocate for a better world. No, don’t take up the space of the marginalised, but use your privilege to amplify their voices.
I began the year by helping out at the Bombay protests against the new Citizenship Amendment Bill and it is ending with educating those around me regarding the farmers protests. While the pandemic has taken away the relevance of time, I measure months by the major political activity that happened. I can mark the highs and lows of my mental health with them. That is how intertwined politics and mental health are, they impact us in ways we might not entirely be able to discern. As this year draws to an end, I hope the rising fascism that has been leading to the death of democracy starts to decline, I hope our mental health fares better in the new year. I am rooting for our world, our countries and us.
Aarushi Kataria is the signing founder and president of L2S+India, based in Bombay, where her team also leads 10+ city Chapters across India. To learn more about their incredible work, check out http://l2sindia.org/.