Health Care and the Histories of Development in Colonial India
Bio: Samiksha Sehrawat is Lecturer at Newcastle University. She has published on gender history, urban history, the princely states and military history, the social history of medicine, peasant societies, imperial history and Indians in the First World War. Her first monograph, Colonial Medical Care in North India: Gender, State and Society, c. 1840-1920 (OUP, 2013), analysed the political economy of health care and examined the impact of gender and ethnicity in shaping access to health care. She has been awarded a Leverhulme Research Fellowship to work on the first social history of colonial hospitals, Colonial Medicine in Punjab (MUP, 2021). Her current research reconstructs the history of maternal health and its close links with the fashioning of British women as colonial experts in the British Empire.
Abstract: This paper critiques recent attempts to historicize development which implicitly define development as economic development and thus obscure earlier histories of what would be categorized today as ‘human development’. The ‘imperial’ turn in development studies has led to increasing awareness of the links between colonial forms of rule and the purpose and practice of development, yet histories of development continue to focus on economic development, and trace the role of male agricultural and scientific experts in the construction of the economy. Such histories of development occlude the longer historical trajectories of human development championed by Amartya Sen and embodied by the UN Millennium and Sustainable Development Goals. This paper reveals such ‘concealed, critical discourses that have been written out of conventional stories of development’ by examining two case studies from colonial India that advocated state involvement in the provision of healthcare. It traces the emergence of female British medical experts who demanded government intervention to improve maternal health for colonial development from as early as 1913. It also examines efforts from 1925 by Indian ministers to expand health care for the rural population after devolution under the Government of India Act, 1919. Policies pursued by these ministers expanded the healthcare infrastructure in north India, but also attempted solutions to problems of providing health care in a ‘developing’, predominantly rural society that have been forgotten and yet continue to haunt health policy in contemporary south Asia.