Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Center for Contemporary South Asia

Student Spotlight: Pranav Sharma '17

Name: Pranav J. Sharma

Degree/Concentration: A.B. in Development Studies

Year of Graduation: Brown University, 2017; Warren Alpert Medical School, 2021

Hometown: Milpitas, CA

Tell us about what you'll be working on this summer.

With 11.6% of India’s global burden of disease attributed to mental illness, mental health is one of India’s most significant health systems challenges today. Despite such problematic phenomena as farmer suicides and workplace depression having reached the nation’s rural and urban locales alike, no national mental health policy is currently in place. Yet the paradigm-shifting National Mental Health Care Bill, which is set to comprehensively address this gap by guaranteeing mental health coverage to all Indians and reforming the rights framework in which those with mental illness exist, has remained stalled in the political and policymaking process since 2009.

My project, Mental Health Care and the State, studies the political influence and stakes of different actors vis-à-vis this bill and the relationship of the Indian state with mental health care, with the goal of reaching a deeper understanding of the challenges facing passage of health systems reforms in India. By interviewing key stakeholders in India’s mental health care landscape, ranging from the Parliament and central/state governments to the NGO and medical sectors, I aim to help analyze the political failure to achieve passage of the bill, while also explaining how the issue of mental health plays out in India’s bureaucratic and political landscape.

Through engaging in this research, I aim to build a better understanding of how the aspiration, affirmed by the United Nations’ third sustainable development goal, of guaranteeing both physical and mental health care to the entire population is enhanced, limited, or simply affected by political and legislative realities in India. Immediately, I am focused on reaching a conception of what political and society-based mechanisms or relationships can be leveraged to maximize the potential for the passage of this specific mental health care bill by understanding the factors underlying its stalling. More broadly, I hope to develop an understanding of prospects for civil society and government coalition building to ensure achievement of progressive priorities in the area of health for the underprivileged classes of India in years to come.