Latest News – The INTAR India Conference

The INTAR India conference was held late November, 2016, in Lavasa, a ‘manufactured city’ in
the Sahyadri Mountains, a couple of hours from Pune. It was a curious setting, beautiful, yet a bit
disorienting in its dissimilarity to the rest of India. Soon though we realized we were in the best
place, for the best ‘mental health’ conference, ever. We were not a big group (approximately
150), but in terms of the number of countries represented (42) we were totally world-class.

The conference was a collaborative effort involving INTAR members from seven countries, talking
regularly on conference calls, but the real work was performed on the ground in Pune by Bhargavi
Davar and the Bapu Trust community.  They worked tirelessly and efficiently to stage a multi-
faceted event with pre-conference institutes, the three-day conference, and a final day of
visioning. The conference enjoyed significant backing from a sizeable number of NGO sponsors
which is a testament to the organizational acumen of the Bapu Trust; and it also highlights an
impressive degree of interconnectivity, cooperation and respect between the activists and
advocates throughout Asia and Africa.

As envisioned by Bhargavi the conference was “a critical moment for Asia, a haven of eastern
healing techniques, to upload its potential on recovery methods to the world and to learn from
methods and approaches from other cultures.” This is what occurred for us, the happy few who
travelled from all over to talk, listen and exchange ideas and examples of healing from extreme
states, that were mostly tied to inclusion, peer support, ‘de-colonizing the mind’, community
development, with a dash of mysticism and grace. And, there was the extraordinary Saturday
night party with all hands near the lake, under the stars, cavorting and dancing to an awesome
rock cover band. Such a night!

As things progressed a key theme emerged, that we need to push the message throughout the
broad public that the bio-medical disease model is corrupt and inadequate, that a paradigm of
humanism, wellness and compassion needs to take its place. It was also made evident that even if
the public knows little about it, that the paradigm shift is actually well underway; indeed, the
conference presenters and attendees positively embody this new paradigm. From their
perspective, shifting the narrative takes us from passivity, resignation and isolation to
empowerment, agency and community. It was variously said that we need to shift:

  • the focus from the wounded individual to the societal milieu so we understand that the
    ‘illness’ is not within the individual but actually exists between us (in the contexts of
    trauma, inequity/neo-liberalism, patriarchy, racism, etc.);
  • the emphasis from pathology to the social determinants of health and the social
    construction of illness;
  • from ‘best practices’ to social justice;
  • from ‘mental health’ to community development;
  • from a focus on racialization (the process by which people are isolated, marginalized and
    otherized) to an appreciation of the global majority;
  • from silent complicity to whistle-blowing and speaking truth to power;
  • and, from victimization to psychological liberation.

Many of us in the West have been pushing for this paradigm shift since the 70s. It was an
honour to finally meet our Eastern compatriots via a transcultural dialogue on our shared
journey toward recovery transformation.