School of Gender and Livelihoods

Grameen Series Talk (1) "Mental Health and Migrant Workers"


Date and time: Sept. 10, 2020 3:00AM - 4:00AM

Venue: Zoom


Organized By

Rural Development and Governance Programme

School of Livelihoods and Development

Lecture 1

Title: Mental Health and Migrant Workers

Speaker- Sudarshan R Kottai

Assistant Professor, Dept. Of Psychology

Jain (Deemed-To-Be) University,



Chaired by Dr KP Rajesh

Introduction to 'GRAMEEN TALK SERIES' by Dr. Shahul Ameen KT


The COVID-19 pandemic in India has unraveled both the profound failures of governance and the social fissures in our society. While the privileged  Indians abroad were flown in at the expense of the government, an estimated 40 million migrant workers were left high and dry to fend for themselves. Money-less, transport-less, jobless, they walked thousands of kilometers in an attempt to reach their villages.  Recorded as a massive human tragedy, not seen since the partition in 1947, the migrant workers were often victims of police brutality and hundreds are documented to have lost their lives.

One response of the state – which failed to provide transport, food, and water – was to offer tele counseling for ‘mental distress’, and offer pharmaceutical support through task-shifting. This talk will unwrap the politics of psy disciplines, especially as it is brought to bear in our country during the humongous crisis brought on by structural violence and social suffering; medicalizing, decontextualizing, depoliticizing and psychiatrizing these. Drawing from mental health policies, developments around COVID-19, and personal insights from mental health spaces, I will throw light on how mainstream mental health systems in India huddle with the state, in aggressively replacing social justice problems of vulnerable sections like migrant workers with a single story of ‘psychiatric disorders’.

*I use “migrant workers” as employed in majoritarian public discourse. I prefer to refer to them as guest workers, a term coined by the government of Kerala.


Sudarshan R Kottai is an assistant professor in the department of psychology, Jain (deemed-to-be) University, Bangaluru. He is an RCI licensed clinical psychologist and has worked in the same capacity at Lokopriyo Gopinath Bordoloi  Regional Institute of Mental Health, Tezpur, Assam, a tertiary mental health care institution.  Sudarshan’s doctoral work, carried out at the Department of Liberal Arts, Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad revolved around everyday narratives and practices of mental health care and chronicity that are constructed by official discourses of state and bio-medicine. His research has been published in peer-reviewed journals such as Medical Anthropology: Cross-Cultural Studies on Health and Illness, Indian Journal of Medical Ethics, and Economic and Political Weekly. Sudarshan speaks to the following areas of scholarship: psy interventions with marginalized/minority population, mental health in the context of gender, disabilities and sexualities, and intersections in (public) mental health from multidisciplinary perspectives. He follows issues related to public administration that have direct consequences to life in general and human mentation in particular. Travelling, listening to music, reading literature, and spending time with his pet dogs and other nonhumans on his farmland are sources of immense contemplations for him.