Nilisha Vashist

Research Interests

I have been trained in social anthropological methods of research at University of Delhi, India with a specialisation in medical anthropology. My MPhil research focussed on faith healing of spirit-possession in a Hindu temple wherein I studied spirit-possession as understood by sufferers and their care-groups across sociological and mental health domains. Continuing my interests in the field of mental health, my current research aims to explore the role of marginality (caste-identities in the present case) in effecting psychological distress among University students in India. The research is designed to be an ethnographic study of a University campus (University of Pune), Maharashtra, India.

Apart from my academic interest in mental health, I have also briefly explored other research fields, major of which are gender and power relations (fieldwork in Himachal Pradesh), health seeking behaviour and medical pluralism in an urbanizing village of Delhi, revisiting anthropological studies (Rampura, studied by Oscar Lewis) and unorganized labour in global garment supply chains (in association with GoodWeave, India).

Research Interests

  1. Medical anthropology, cultural psychiatry
  2. Mental health and Marginality
  3. Caste, Gender and Power relations
  4. Race, Ethnicity and Identity politics
  5. South-Asia (more specifically India)

Current research project:

Casted minds in Higher Education in India: Caste Identities and their role in shaping Psychological Well-being among students.

Caste, the basis of social hierarchy in India, continues to flash itself in every aspect of Indian society, despite an otherwise formed consensus of its diminishing importance, especially in urban India. Higher education, in this regard, has become the center stage of caste dynamics with fierce debates on 'merit' often serving as pivot to orient caste relations in pedagogy. Caste identities are consolidated, negotiated and contested through everyday interactions among students, faculty and staff, in turn, shaping the psyche of actors involved. This study tries to explore how marginalization caused due to such constructs affect psychological well-being of students in Universities. The research tries to understand how caste forges identities among students, teachers and staff; the experience, contestation and resistance to caste based academic discourses by students, and the psychological impact of these discourses on student well-being.

The overarching methodology is based on twelve month long ethnographic fieldwork in an Indian University involving data collection through participant observation, interviews, case studies and discourse analysis of everyday interactions and dynamics caste in the campus.