In India, indigenous populations, known as Adivasi or Scheduled Tribes (STs), are among the poorest and most marginalized groups. 'Deprived' ST groups tend to display high levels of resignation and to lack the capacity to aspire; consequently their health perceptions often do not adequately correspond to their real health needs. Moreover, similar to indigenous populations elsewhere, STs often have little opportunity to voice perspectives framed within their own cultural worldviews. We undertook a study to gather policy-relevant data on the views, experiences, and priorities of a marginalized and previously enslaved tribal group in South India, the Paniyas, who have little 'voice' or power over their own situation.
We implemented a Participatory Poverty and Health Assessment (PPHA). We adopted guiding principles and an ethical code that promote respect for Paniya culture and values. The PPHA, informed by a vulnerability framework, addressed five key themes (health and illness, well-being, institutions, education, gender) using participatory approaches and qualitative methods. We implemented the PPHA in five Paniya colonies (clusters of houses in a small geographical area) in a gram panchayat (lowest level decentralized territorial unit) to generate data that can be quickly disseminated to decision-makers through interactive workshops and public forums.
Findings indicated that the Paniyas are caught in multiple 'vulnerability traps', that is, they view their situation as vicious cycles from which it is difficult to break free.