“The Agency of Death: Health and Spirituality for the Paniya of Wayanad,
a Marginalised Tribal Community in Southern India”
My research explores how public policy and primary health practice influences the mental, physical and cultural well-being of the Paniyas of Wayanad, a marginalised tribal group in Southern India who were slaves until the 1940’s. I assess the impact of biomedical practices on their traditional healing rituals and, through ethnographic material, I show how cultural practices embedded in their funeral rites help them to gain a sense of agency and empowerment.
In Wayanad, health programs and economic development initiatives are often used as a means through which religious organisations and political parties can endear themselves to communities and gain local legitimacy. Once a foothold has been established, healthcare becomes a conduit through which ideology is transferred and bio-political subjects are made. In addition to this, the failure of the state to implement health and development programs that adequately meet the needs of marginalised groups in the region have resulted in further economic and social exclusion. With the use of biomedicine on the increase, and the normative pressures of ‘modernity’ bearing down on local healing rituals and religious practices, I attempt to understand the symbolic nature of health care and to see how individuals negotiate the point of intersection between the drive for self-determination and the implementation of both institutionalised development and biomedicical practice.
Sumant Badami in brief:
Sumant Badami currently doing a PhD in Anthropology at Macquarie University, after obtaining an honours degree in Anthropology from the same institution in 2003. Having conducted over fourteen months of fieldwork, he has presented his findings at the South Asian Action Group Annual Meeting, in Edinburgh, and the ARC Asia Pacific Research Network Signature Conference on Transitions in Health, in Melbourne. He has also participated in a workshop on the Cultural Politics of Disadvantaged Castes in India, at The Australian National University.He has had a book review published in the Journal of the American Ethnological Society, and has had an article accepted for inclusion in a special issue on Health, Culture and Religion in South Asia for a major new international journal, the Journal of South Asian History and Culture, which is also to come out in an edited book, to be published by Routledge later this year. His abstract has been accepted for a poster presentation at the Yale Conference on Medical Anthropology andhe has recently been invited to submit an article for a thematic issue on Health in South Asia for Anthropology and Medicine.