Bhargavi Davar

Ashoka Fellow


This profile was prepared when Bhargavi Davar was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2005.
The New Idea
Bhargavi Davar established Bapu Trust in 1999 as the first national-level organization in India entirely devoted to challenging the values, principles, and practices of the Indian mental health system. Drawing on years of work as an academic researcher, she operates on the conviction that medical interventions to manage the mentally ill have excluded attempts to address the social and structural causes of disease, and have resulted in a failed, paternalistic model of care. Bhargavi has for a number of years been at the forefront of initiatives to confront and address the problems of her country’s mental health system. For instance, Bapu Trust aims to regulate the overgrown authority of mental health institutions in India, which currently deny patients any role in making decisions about their treatment. The trust works with judges, government officers, and citizen groups to establish laws and regulations that protect the basic rights of people who suffer from mental illness.
Bhargavi balances her work for legal reform with action-oriented research and developing and publicizing alternatives to the dominant model of mental health care. Her Center for Advocacy in Mental Health, the research and public advocacy wing of Bapu Trust, is building and assessing a unique recuperative community based on research that incorporates modern understandings with traditional practices of healing. The new community will stand as a model for safe and effective recovery, while defying both convention and legal precedent by refusing to function as a custodial psychiatric institution. The trust runs a similar program for women with common mental health problems, which places anxiety, depression, or phobia in the context of home and community, and refers clients to general practitioners and lawyers rather than psychiatrists.
Through Bapu Trust, Bhargavi ultimately aims to overturn the single-strategy model of medical intervention that continues to dominate the mental health field in India and replace it with a diverse, comprehensive system of rehabilitation alternatives that pay respect to the integrity and dignity of all involved.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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