Open Access Open Badges Correspondence

Paniya Voices: A Participatory Poverty and Health Assessment among a marginalized South Indian tribal population

KS Mohindra12*, D Narayana3, CK Harikrishnadas4, SS Anushreedha4 and Slim Haddad15

Author Affiliations

1 Centre de recherche du Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal, Montréal, Canada

2 Institute of Population Health, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada

3 Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, India

4 Centre for Development Studies local office, Wayanad, India

5 Groupe de recherche interdisciplinaire en santé, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:149  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-149

Published: 22 March 2010



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.

Preliminary findings

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.


The PPHA is a potentially useful approach for global health researchers working with marginalized communities to implement research initiatives that will address those communities' health needs in an ethical and culturally appropriate manner.