ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The 300 Ramayanas and the District Mental Health Programme

The web version of this article corrects a few errors that appeared in the print edition.

With the completion of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan, an appraisal of the mental health initiative in the space of state-sponsored health delivery seems appropriate and timely. Discourses in health delivery usually tend to implement similar sets of tools. This article argues that to achieve some form of clarity it may be appropriate to look at health delivery through the lenses of the social sciences. In this attempt, the article uses the metaphor of 300 Ramayanas and the tools of A K Ramanujan to review thinking about the District Mental Health Programme.

Both authors are members of the policy group set up by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. The authors would however like to explicitly state that the views expressed here are personal. They would also like to acknowledge the contribution made to their understanding by all the other members of the policy group, and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, for setting up the group. The authors specifi cally like to thank Sushrut Jadhav of University College, London, and Perminder Sachdev of University of New South Wales, Sydney for their insightful comments and suggestions.

In 2011 there was quite a furore over the withdrawal from the history curriculum of Delhi University of an essay by the noted scholar A K Ramanujan. This essay is titled “Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation” (Ramanujan 1991). The point that the essayist makes is that there is no one “authentic version” of the Ramayana, that there are many different retellings of the same story and that with the same “anchor points” many different narratives can be constructed. The controversy has actually ensured that many beyond the confines of academy have actually read the essay, so, in a sense, it has served a larger purpose. As many commentators have noted, the diversity and variety of narrative is a testimony to the pluralism of tradition.1

To our minds, this remarkable essay actually makes three points: (a) There can be no one monolithic telling of a complex story, and that these stories are indeed open to many different tellings, (b) in the nature of narrative, there are interesting similarities and differences between the written and oral traditions, and (c) the interesting fact that the apparently different narratives actually relate to each other in many ways, and so, while there will be narratives and counter-narratives, all of these, will, in a sense, speak to each other. This is what has been called the “inter-textual” nature of the discourse.

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