Bhrigupati Singh Explores the Social and Cultural Aspects of Wellbeing
Assistant Professor of Anthropology Bhrigupati Singh spent his 2015-2016 sabbatical year conducting ethnographic research on mental health and illness, as a Visiting Faculty member at the Department of Psychiatry of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS, Delhi). While Singh’s proposal was framed around the cultural life of diagnostic categories, such as depression and anxiety, the actual research became wider in focus. Patient interviews during ward rounds at AIIMS led Singh to a community clinic in the lower-income neighborhood of Trilokpuri (in East Delhi), described by news media as a “riot laboratory” of contemporary India. Forms of subjectivity, tensions and everyday life in this neighborhood became a major focus of Singh’s research. In Trilokpuri Singh also continued his longstanding interests in spiritual healing, in particular working with a popular healer in the neighborhood known as "Sufiji," who took him on a journey to a Sufi Muslim shrine in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh, one of the leading sites for the treatment of mental/spirit afflictions in north India. Singh made numerous visits to Badaun with Sufiji, including one visit where they took along a team of psychiatrists from AIIMS to study the kinds of clinical diagnoses one might find among treatment-seekers in a shrine such as Badaun. Gradually, Singh realized that the ethnographic journey between AIIMS, Trilokpuri, and Badaun was not random. Rather, in what is globally beginning to be called the "post-asylum era," this journey between hospital, home, and shrine is quite common and may even be the norm for mental health trajectories in India. To further examine concepts of the normal and pathological in popular culture, Singh also teamed up with a filmmaker to create an archive of film and media material related to mental health (available at indiancine.ma). Singh is now at work on his next book, tentatively titled Lunar Enlightenment: Essays on Life-Force.
Singh's research was funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the American Institute for Indian Studies, CCSA and the Watson Institute.