The INTAR India conference was held late November, 2016, in Lavasa, a ‘manufactured city’ in the Sahyadri Mountains, a couple of hours from Pune. It was a curious setting, beautiful, yet a bit disorienting in its dissimilarity to the rest of India. Soon though we realized we were in the best place, for the best ‘mental health’ conference, ever. We were not a big group (approximately
150), but in terms of the number of countries represented (42) we were totally world-class.
The conference was a collaborative effort involving INTAR members from seven countries, talking regularly on conference calls, but the real work was performed on the ground in Pune by Bhargavi Davar and the Bapu Trust community. They worked tirelessly and efficiently to stage a multifaceted event with pre-conference institutes, the three-day conference, and a final day of visioning. The conference enjoyed significant backing from a sizeable number of NGO sponsors which is a testament to the organizational acumen of the Bapu Trust; and it also highlights an impressive degree of interconnectivity, cooperation and respect between the activists and advocates throughout Asia and Africa.
As envisioned by Bhargavi the conference was
“a critical moment for Asia, a haven of eastern healing techniques, to upload its potential on recovery methods to the world and to learn from methods and approaches from other cultures.”
This is what occurred for us, the happy few who travelled from all over to talk, listen and exchange ideas and examples of healing from extreme states, that were mostly tied to inclusion, peer support, ‘de-colonizing the mind’, community development, with a dash of mysticism and grace. And, there was the extraordinary Saturday night party with all hands near the lake, under the stars, cavorting and dancing to an awesome rock cover band. Such a night!
As things progressed a key theme emerged, that we need to push the message throughout the broad public that the bio-medical disease model is corrupt and inadequate, that a paradigm of humanism, wellness and compassion needs to take its place. It was also made evident that even if the public knows little about it, that the paradigm shift is actually well underway; indeed, the conference presenters and attendees positively embody this new paradigm. From their perspective, shifting the narrative takes us from passivity, resignation and isolation to empowerment, agency and community. It was variously said that we need to shift:
the focus from the wounded individual to the societal milieu so we understand that the ‘illness’ is not within the individual but actually exists between us (in the contexts of trauma, inequity/neo-liberalism, patriarchy, racism, etc.);
the emphasis from pathology to the social determinants of health and the social construction of illness;
from ‘best practices’ to social justice;
from ‘mental health’ to community development;
from a focus on racialization (the process by which people are isolated, marginalized and otherized) to an appreciation of the global majority;
from silent complicity to whistle-blowing and speaking truth to power;
and, from victimization to psychological liberation.
Many of us in the West have been pushing for this paradigm shift since the 70s. It was an honour to finally meet our Eastern compatriots via a transcultural dialogue on our shared journey toward recovery transformation.