Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Health and Medicine in Princely India

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Who this event is for

  • Everyone


1/10, B, Harcourt Hill Campus


This symposium brings together researchers working on medicine and health in the former Princely States of India. About two fifths of the Subcontinent was made up of over 500 Indian States.

Putting Princely India at the centre of investigation is important because existing scholarship on colonial medicine has been concerned almost exclusively with the regions under direct British control, leading to a distorted conception of the political realities and medical developments during the age of British imperialism. The assessment of developments in 'Indian India' will therefore contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the nature and impact of western medicine.

The symposium is part of the ongoing collaborative research work, funded by THE WELLCOME TRUST, between Professor W. Ernst (Oxford Brookes University), Dr B. Pati (Delhi University) and Dr T.V. Sekher (International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai) on ‘Colonial Medicine and Indigenous Health Practices in Southern and Eastern Princely States of India, c. 1880-1960’

Deadline for submission of abstracts (up to 500 words), brief c.v. and publication list: 31 March 2011

Deadline for submission of pre-circulated papers (up to 8,000 words excl. footnotes): 31 June 2011

Presentations and papers

  • Government, Missionaries Non Government Organizations and Health Issues in Early Twentieth Century Travancore, Dr Raj Sekhar Basu, University of Calcutt
    This paper deals with a range of issues from health, sanitation to eradication of diseases like small pox and cholera. In Travancore, the issue of public health had been always matter of debate in the government circles and there were a lot of opinion regarding the government's active involvement in this sphere. The government's effort to initiate public health policies was indirectly inked to the strategies of the medical missionaries in Travancore. In course of time, despite differences, there seemed to be a convergence between the government and the missionaries. The Travancore government actively sponsored the missionary organizations engaged in health issues to undertake programmes related to sanitation and vaccination. But the 1930s, apart from this sort of condition, there was also the involvement of non government organizations like the Rockefeller Foundation, which had its own policies on public health. The paper seeks to understand the interactions between there diverse organizations and the impact it had on public health in Travancore. This interaction was particularly important, since it had wide implications in regard to the uplift of the depressed classes in Travancore. The paper would be based on government archival documents and missionary documents dealing with health in Travancore.
  • Western science, indigenous medicine and the Princely State: The case of the Ayurvedic reorganisation in Travancore, 1870-194, Dr Burton Cleetus, Calicut University
    Indigenous medicine and its reorganisation in the princely states were analogous to those that were witnessed in British India. However, for the princely families, devoid of considerable political authority and forced to adhere to rapid modernisation of its administrative system also meant the garnering of state sovereignty in the emerging socio-political and cultural context generated under colonial modernity. Hence, there was an aggressive intervention on the part of the representatives of the princely states to reorganise indigenous healthcare practices deemed as representing Indian cultural forms. Drawing on the emerging nationalist trends and concerns proponents of reform sought to represent indigenous medicine as a rational enterprise according to the standards set by the intervention of western science and its logical paradigms. This objective was sought to be obtained through reorganizing indigenous medicine by disseminated indigenous medicine through state sponsored educational institutions with an organised pedagogy, with textually sanctioned norms and practices, accompanied by centralized production and distribution of indigenous drugs, their preservation and marketing, guided through official control etc.
    The paper seeks to explore as to how questions concerning the integration of indigenous medicine through western medical categories emerges and sustains as an Ayurvedic discipline, both as a practice as well as an academic discipline in contemporary times. Here an attempt is made to trace the evolution of "Ayurveda" as an organised discipline from amongst a large number of localised heterogeneous practices from the mid nineteenth century onwards, from being taught at the royal palaces, as centres of learning to Ayurveda patasalas, supported by the generous grant-in-aid given by the princely states to Ayurvedic practitioners, by constantly framing laws and standards as to what qualifies to become the "Ayurveda" as it emerges in accordance with nineteenth century standards. Thus the state as the representative of indigenous cultural norms and practices influences and shapes the emergence of 'Ayurveda' as a cultural phenomenon working out through nationalist aspirations, that transgressed the basic concerns on science and rationality that set in motion the process of reform within the Indian medical practices on lines similar to that of western medicine. In short the paper is an attempt to locate the movement towards institutionalisation in its historical perspective where national, social and cultural concerns found its reflection in the reorganisation of Ayurveda as an organised academic discipline and practice in the princely state of Travancore.
  • Mental Health and Illness in Mysore, Travancore and Orissa, c. 1860–1947, Professor Waltraud Ernst, Oxford Brookes University
    This paper focuses on two themes. First it explores how officials and medical practitioners in the selected princely states responded to the development of mental health provision in the provinces of British India during the nineteenth century. As will be shown, some states engaged in similar initiatives, whilst others did not. The context within which the various states considered mental health measures as un/important will be assessed. Second the paper examines how psychiatric facilities in particular states were not always based on the British model, but drew also on American, German and French paradigms. The fact that during the early twentieth century in particular some of the princely states maintained strong links not only with British (and British Indian) medical practitioners and medical institutions, but also with eminent colleagues and organisations in Germany, France and the United States, provides new insights into the interplay of local adaptations with global exchanges between different national schools of thought in the formation of what is often vaguely, and all too simply, referred to as 'western' or 'colonial' medicine. Within South Asia, the princely states were relegated to the margins or 'peripheries' of what were considered to be the 'centres' (i.e. the British Indian provinces). It will be argued that this model is based on an overly simplistic 'centre'/'periphery' framework that enshrines a crude East – West dichotomy.
  • Medical Modernization and Central-European Exile in Princely India during World War II, Dr Margit Franz, University of Graz, Austri
    In 1943, 127 of the 1080 Jewish refugees in India, tracked by the Jewish Relief Association in Bombay, were doctors or dentists, while 40 of them were working in military settings. Shalva Weil estimates the number of Central European Jews who reached India in excess of 2000, but recent research shows even higher numbers. The largest number resided in Bombay while smaller populations of refugees lived on "small islands of modernization" – the courts of modern rulers in Princely India – and the rest were scattered across other parts of British India. Due to the lack of systematic international research the paper wants to provide a first attempt of a biographical, regional and institutional mapping of exile doctors and medical practitioners in Princely India. Secondly it will elaborate the modernization of medicine in Bikaner to show the influence of the (mainly Jewish) refugee doctors to the development of Princely India´s health care in the late 1930s and 1940s. Regarding work and postings, many refugee doctors were following the unwritten master-plan of modernization unfolded by Jawarharlal Nehru in postcolonial India: mechanization of organization, structure, education, diagnosis, and treatment; application of Western scientific methods, treatments, classifications, and values; the emphasis on introduction of modern machines (e.g. X-ray), and treatments (e.g. vaccinations); and the promotion of hospitals as places of treatment, education, and centres of reorganization of medical services. The dam became the symbol for Nehrus postcolonial politics following an agenda of modernization and mechanisation. In 1938 Nehru committed himself to supporting refugees, in particular those with technical and medical professional skills. Central-European refugee doctors "supplied" already pre-independence Princely India with a considerable number of non-British Western-educated medical practitioners. This provided Indian rulers and their courts access to Western medicine without forcing them to leave their state. These Western medical practitioners also offered their services in public hospitals thereby reaching the less affluent Indian population and thus, democratising access to Western medical services which had previously been restricted primarily to those with money or affiliation to British services. Central-European medical refugees in Princely India were thus individual out-posts of modernization as well as of modernization of medicine based on their education, experiences, values, and life-style.
  • Native medicine at the cusp: On the idea of folk(ing) practices, K. P. Girija, Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, Bangalore
    There have been several efforts to theorize on health, medicine and education in India. Such studies have mostly focused on the role of the State in the development of these practices and their relation to the State. However, this has not always been a monolithic state-centric story. State-centered theorizations have not paid much attention to reveal the internal dynamics of these practices. For instance, in the early eighteenth century in Keralam, the native medical practices as well as native education were financially and morally supported by the local communities, landlords and the kings. There were different negotiations within the practicing communities which were influenced by patronage though in this the State was only one among the players. They were also determined by the internal tensions and relations of the multiple native medical practices in their engagement with modern medicine. My attempt here is to start with a few state-centric events, move back and forth within them while looking into the fissures within these narratives in order to understand the dynamics and internal logic of the native medical practices in Keralam by focusing on vishavaidyam (indigenous toxicology).
    The events which I would look into are: 1) From the late nineteenth century onwards, large numbers of snakes were massacred by the natives on orders given by the colonial State. The State gave monetary benefits to people for killing snakes and orders were issued for "cutting down and clearing away of jungle in the vicinity of village" . 2) Vishavaidyam is referred to as an occupation for the first time in the second Census Report of Kochi and Travancore, two princely States, in 1891. It is not mentioned as an occupation in the Census Report of the Madras Presidency (under direct colonial rule) and 3) The tension between native medical practices and modern medicine that evolved in the second half of the nineteenth century got solidified by the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century.
    Instead of seeing it as a tension between two systems of medicine, I would like to observe this as a mode of unintelligibility of the colonial intellectual process that attempted to decipher a form of healing as a system of medicine. This process invariably involved deployment of several conceptual categories used in the study of systems of medicine (basically deployed in modern education) for understanding and analyzing native medical practices. Rather than bringing out what were there in the native practices, such analyses only pointed out what were lacking in them within the norms of modern systems. For instance, lack of education in the modern sense and illiteracy of the practitioners of local medicine are used as an alibi for categorizing these practices as well as practitioners as unscientific and irrational. At the same time, the statistics that always disturbed the colonial State was that of the number of people who subscribed to the native medical practices was much higher than that of the modern medical practice.
  • Doctors and Hakim Sahibs: Continuity and Change in Princely Patronage, Razak Khan, Muslim Cultures and Societies, Freie Universitaet Berlin
    The state of Health and Medicine were seen as an important structure of legitimacy in princely India. Rampur offers interesting insight into the continuity of the old structures and its entanglement with the changing colonial discourse on Health and Progressive Governance. Rampur was the last Muslim ruled princely state in United provinces after the decline of Mughal and Awadh state. It emerged as a major centre of patronage of indigenous Unani medicine and Hakims. We find many of them mentioned in local Tazkiras. Under Hamid Ali Khan rule (1889-1930) a new legitimacy based on combination his modern western educated ruler as well continuation of his role as the traditional patron was created . The Mughal tradition was seemingly superseded by the colonial model of good governance where modern education, efficient health care, public works and bureaucratization of state power were the hallmark of the desired princely modernity model. While the nawab worked within the new rhetoric of progressive changes, he also appropriated the existing tradition to consolidate his legitimacy. What we find is a reformulation of this tradition within the colonial model. Unani medicine and Hakims continued to receive patronage. The famed Hakim Ajmal Khan himself was the protégé of the Nawab of Rampur. Rampur state also championed the cause of Unani Conference of Hakim Ajmal Khan. However, we also notice a gradual shift with the coming of the figure of Doctor who now occupied the position of power to manage health of ruler and also of the state subjects. This is most evident in the creation of a separate Medical department and its detailed account of the same from the annual reports. Both Public and Private domains particularly the health of Purdah Nashins were to be interrogated and reformed under this new princely modernity. The paper will explore the roles Doctors played in Princely state politics.? In what ways the indigenous health practices were appropriated and also marginalized in the initial stage of the introduction of western health and medicine in an area long accustomed to the system of Unani medicine? The paper also looks at collaborations between the native assistant and colonial health experts . The paper intends to examine the continuities and shifts in princely patronage tradition of which medicine was an important part. We notice the creation of competing market of Health in princely India. The paper aims to place Princely state as an important centre that attracted Doctors who very much like Hakims were competing for generous princely patrons resulting in important controversies bringing colonial state to intervene . The paper thus explores the possibilities of studying Health as an important site of demarcating and contesting standards of Governance between British and princely India.
  • Midwives, Vayyattaatis and the Feminisation of Maternal Healthcare: Medicalising Childbirth in the Princely State of Travancore, 1880-1950, Aparna Nair, Trivandrum
    Despite the early introduction of Western medicine (c.1804) into the erstwhile princely state of Travancore, women across socioeconomic boundaries continued to rely on family, friends and the traditional birth attendant (or vayattati) during childbirth. The practitioners and institutions of Western medicine remained extraneous to this private and domestic social event; where caste and custom figured large. By the early twentieth century, childbirth in Travancore became increasingly medicalised; births began to be attended by Western-trained medical professionals (midwives, nurses and doctors). This paper, which utilizes both archival sources (administrative records) as well as oral histories of childbirth collected from women who gave birth in the first half of the twentieth century, describes the medicalisation of childbirth in Travancore. I describe the social and cultural contexts of childbirth in Travancore, the space occupied by the indigenous midwife or the vayattati and her pivotal role in the removal of the 'pollutions' of childbirth. This paper then traces the increasing state investment in the training of midwives in the Western tradition, which was concomitant with the abjection of the vayattati from state discourse and practices around childbirth. These newly trained midwives were not physically restricted to institutions such as the hospital/dispensary; they worked in households across Travancore. This was a space which few male medical professionals could enter with impunity at the time. The increasing involvement of midwives in childbirth gradually granted them social acceptance and status; which I argue contributed, in addition to other factors, to the medicalisation of childbirth and the social acceptance of Western medicine in Travancore. Other factors in the medicalisation of childbirth are also explored—such as the feminization of the maternity hospitals in Travancore, state propaganda efforts to craft the 'modern' mother and child, and demographic changes such as the increasing urbanization and nuclearization of families. The state of Travancore is of particular importance to the researcher because of its much-vaunted reputation as a 'benevolent state' whose progressive social policies purportedly contributed to the , and because the medicalisation of childbirth in this erstwhile princely state followed a vastly different path than in directly administrated colonial territories such as Madras.
  • From Faith to Medicine. Development of Psychiatric Services in Jaipur State, Dr Veenu Pant, S.S. Jain Subodh P.G. College, Jaipur
    Lunatic asylum to psychiatric centre - the journey of psychiatric treatment in Jaipur from state period to present is a transition of society which rejected psychiatric patients as a threat to the society to a society which has slowly started accepting psychiatric patients and their problems as mental disorders which can be treated like any other disease. Awareness of biomedical treatment and help has certainly made a vast difference in lives of many patient, city dwellers and educated population has changed its attitude towards such cases, but still multitude are either left on streets to suffer on their own or their families seek divine help instead of availing medical facilities and help.
    This paper seeks to trace the changes in attitude of society, its resilience, and its strong rooted belief in faith healing along with the development of psychiatric services in Jaipur from the signing of treaty with British East India Company till date. This interesting journey unwinds through the temple town of Menhdipur Balaji, goes along in its path to various temples of Hanuman and covers many Pir Durgah which magically cure such infestation of demonic powers even today. Medical science is just one of the options and the taboo attached with Psychiatric centres hold people from approaching them in initial stages. Faith however has no taboo or limit and every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday God continues to holds their OPD and offer magical cures.
  • Health in the Orissan Princely States, 1850s 1950s: Preliminary Explorations, Dr Biswamoy Pati, Delhi University
    To follow
  • Missionary Hospitals in Mysore State, c. 1870-1942, Professor Barbara Ramusack, University of Cincinnati
    Towards the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century various Protestant missionary groups, most notably the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society (CEZMS) and the Methodists, opened maternity hospitals in Mysore. However, the first hospital opened by missionaries in Mysore was an anomaly. The French Roman Catholic Sisters of the Convent of Good Shepherd opened St Martha's Hospital in Bangalore in the late 1870s at the request of the Maharaja of Mysore. They had no medical expertise and were not a nursing order but had done 'simple' nursing during the devastating famines of 1876-77. The Maharaja asked them to open St Martha in the pettah to provide for Indians. It is unusual for a missionary hospital opened by a women's religious order that it did not have a full fledged maternity department until after independence. The Maharaja provided some financial support to both St Martha's and also the Protestant mission hospitals since they were sometimes willing to locate in areas where the Mysore state found it difficult to staff adequately because they were in areas deemed remote or difficult. So the Mysore state where the rulers were very orthodox Hindus and deemed 'progressive' were willing to support Christian missionary hospitals in order to extend health services for its subjects.
    This paper is based on research in the Mysore state archives, missionary publications and records at the Union Theological Library in Bangalore and in the Mysore residency records at the National Archives.
  • Dilemmas between Supernaturalism and Science: Perceptions of Medicine and Health among the Koch-Rajbanshi People of the Princely State of Cooch Behar under Colonial Settings, Sudip Saha, North Eastern Hill University Shillong
    The historiographical analysis over the issues of medicine and public health has taken a paradigm shift in the recent years both in the ways that emphasis is now given more on indigenous medicine and health practices apart from its colonial character on the one hand and the notion of history writing has moved towards micro-narrative or dispersed theme in lieu of its holistic manner or meta-discourse (a al Jean Francois Lyotard) where the issues of princely state is necessarily enter into consideration. Since the late nineteenth century, colonial administrators became far more involved in the lives of their colonial subjects than the territorial expansion in order to create a favoured structural environment which would aggravate the further development of colonialism. Apart from the practices of governmentality and imperial political economy, the colonial masters adopted the tool of medicine and health policy whose ultimate concern was with the body of human beings as a species. The subjects or so called native could not understand how they were dominated by the implementation of colonial medical policies and resistance came only when they perceived the intention of colonial medical care or remained their faith on indigenous medical practices as the Foucaultdian conception of power/knowledge and resistance narrates. The princely state of Cooch Behar which earlier was a part of ancient Kamarupa kingdom became under the cognizance of the British East India Company during the late 18th century. The knowledge of disease theory and health care system among the Koch-Rajbanshi people, the indigenous group to this region, was that of super natural power, evil spirit and traditional way of curing in nature. The perception of disease among this group had been deeply rooted in the religious faith. In colonial times, authorities frequently outlawed traditional medical systems and introduced many modern clinical dispensaries and hospitals based on Western science and technology in contrast to traditional health care system. In order to get the taste of modernity, the rulers (kings) of Cooch Behar State also took special attention to the improvement of sanitation and health condition which helped to enter the western medical practices into this region. But the multiplicity of responses from indigenous communities to modern medicine is perhaps more relevant in the present artcle. Despite the opening up of Public health centres and massive propaganda, traditional ideas of disease and health care system was in practice. Moreover, there were contexts in which the indigenous health practices retained its hold over the Koch-Rajbanshi population, which can be explained by the continuing close links between religion as they practiced (Saivism and Vaishnavism) and this medical system.
  • Epidemic Control and Public Health Administration: Princely Mysore 1870-1940, Dr T.V. Sekher, International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai, To follow
  • The Nizamat Sarkar and Its Health Policy for Indigenous Healing Practices, Dr Bina Sengar, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University, Aurangabad
    The rule of Nizam in the State of Hyderabad was widely spread over the Deccan region of India. The state constituted several communities of varied castes, communities, languages and cultural backgrounds who all lived under the hegemony of Hyderabad State or well known as Nizam Sarkar. The multicultural state of Nizam although inhabited people largely from Deccan, however, it comprised cultural supremacy of Sufi and Islamic traditions in its northern parts of Marathwada and neighbouring Khandesh. The trends of Sufism and Khanqah in the territories of Northern parts of Nizam Sarkar possessed the legacy since the times of Sultanate era, which had profound influence on the culture and religion of the people of the region. While framing the health and welfare policy for the Northern region of Nizam Sarkar, rulers and advisors took special consideration to the fact that regional beliefs and their followers must not be eluded to assert their role in the healing practices for the people. The rule of Nizam was thus, overwhelmingly attributed the traditional practices and with pertinent state patronage elevated them to the status of benefactors of well-being for subjects in the region. The hierarchy of health administration in the Marathwada region of the Nizam state was exclusive to the western health and medicinal services and the expanse of its utility was meant more for the rural and semi-urban populations, other than to what was evident in the capital expanse near and around Hyderabad and Southern expenses of the Nizam Sarkar.