History India South Asia · History of Medicine · Medicine & Doctors · Public health

A history of how the state in independent India ended up championing modern medicine

This was published on April 29 with the wonderful, new Indian magazine “Fifty Two.” Here’s the link. Below are some excerpts:

“A letter to the editor of The Times of India by Bombay-based doctor Bhalchandra Krishna, written in 1888, highlights the range of Indian response to modern hospitals. Among the many factors “injurious to the popularity” of hospitals, he listed the “intermingling of different castes in the same wards, and the consequent dread of losing caste” as an important one.

Other factors included the ministering and “close touch” of ward boys and servants who usually were from the “lower” castes; the “dread of death” induced by the fact that patients with ordinary ailments were often adjacent to serious patients in the wards; and the “dread of surgical, particularly of major, operations, and more especially of amputations and post mortem examinations.” Finally, he wrote, “high-caste” persons also found repulsive the “inferior” quality of diet and clothing provided for hospital patients. Remarkably, during and even after the colonial period, the majority of patients who utilised urban public hospitals, in the process offering “teaching material” to medical students and doctors, were from underprivileged castes and communities.

The imposing edifice of the Indian biomedical profession was built, thus, almost entirely upon the backs and bodies of Indians from oppressed castes. A people who were considered literally untouchable outside the hospital were abruptly, transiently turned touchable, auscultable, operable, and dissectible by the very elites who had relegated them to a manufactured backwardness.”

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