“How can our children learn from us about our way of life or understand who they are?”: Residential schools and their impact on the wellbeing of Indigenous youth in Attapadi, South India

Mathew Sunil George, K. A. Ramu, Rajendra Prasad, N. S. Prashanth, Susheela Kenjoor, Janie Busby Grant

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Abstract

Residential schools are commonly used in India to provide education for Indigenous youth, which requires young people to stay for long periods at distance from their families and communities. Internationally, there is clear evidence for the deleterious effects of residential schools on the mental health and social and community outcomes of Indigenous children, however little is known about the Indian Indigenous experience. This study examined the impact of residential schooling on Indigenous children's wellbeing and that of their communities, using data from an ethnographic research project in Attapadi, Kerala, including interviews, focus group discussions and participant observation with Indigenous communities. Key outcomes from residential schooling reported by the participants include the fear of losing Indigenous identity, shame of being Indigenous, change in the attitude of young people when they returned from schools, and feelings of confusion and stress that young Indigenous participants felt trying to fit into their communities on their return. Findings suggest that these Indigenous youth felt disconnected from several factors that are known to promote resilience for Indigenous communities including a strong cultural identity, connection to the land and ancestors, thereby making them more vulnerable to poor mental health and negative impacts on their overall wellbeing. Addressing these concerns requires a detailed understanding of the specific factors influencing outcomes for Indigenous youth within the Indian residential schooling system, and designing and implementing data-informed conceptual, structural and policy change including the provision of culturally safe mental health services.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalTranscultural Psychiatry
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Feb 2024

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