Cerebellar ataxias are a group of rare progressive neurodegenerative disorders with an average prevalence ranges from 4.8 to 13.8 in 100,000 individuals. The inherited disorders affect multiple members of the families, or a community that is endogamous or consanguineous. Presence of more than 3000 mutations in different genes with overlapping clinical symptoms, genetic anticipation and pleiotropy, as well as incomplete penetrance and variable expressivity due to modifiers pose challenges in genotype–phenotype correlation. Development of a diagnostic algorithm could reduce the time as well as cost in clinicogenetic diagnostics and also help in reducing the economic and social burden of the disease. In a unique research collaboration spanning over 20 years, we have been able to develop a paradigm for studying cerebellar ataxias in the Indian population which would also be relevant in other rare diseases. This has involved clinical and genetic analysis of thousands of families from diverse Indian populations. The extensive resource on ataxia has led to the development of a clinicogenetic algorithm for cost-effective screening of ataxia and a unique ataxia clinic in the tertiary referral centre in All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Utilizing a population polymorphism scanning approach, we have been able to dissect the mechanisms of repeat instability and expansion in many ataxias, and also identify founders, and trace the mutational histories in the Indian population. This provides information for genetic testing of at—risk as well as protected individuals and populations. To dissect uncharacterized cases which comprises more than 50% of the cases, we have explored the potential of next-generation sequencing technologies coupled with the extensive resource of baseline data generated in-house and other public domains. We have also developed a repository of patient-derived peripheral blood mononuclear cells, lymphoblastoid cell lines and neuronal lineages (derived from iPSCs) for ascribing functionality to novel genes/mutations. Through integrating these technologies, novel genes have been identified that has broadened the diagnostic panel, increased the diagnostic yield to over 75%, helped in ascribing pathogenicity to novel mutations and enabled understanding of disease mechanisms. It has also provided a platform for testing novel molecules for amelioration of pathophysiological phenotypes. This review through a perspective on CAs suggests a generic paradigm from diagnostics to therapeutic interventions for rare disorders in the context of heterogeneous Indian populations. © 2018, Indian Academy of Sciences.