Re-evaluating the medical services in colonial Madras: the subordinate perspectives (1880-1935)
Bio: Arnab is a final year PhD candidate at the University of York. His doctoral research is funded by the Wellcome Trust and is titled ‘Medical transformation in Madras Presidency: military and civilian perspectives (1880-1935)’. His thesis focuses mainly on understanding the colonial medical scenario through the eyes and activities of the different medical services active in Madras during the period. For his thesis, he has done extensive research in the UK, India and also in the Rockefeller archives. His wider research interests include public health, health policies in the context of gender and military in South Asia and elsewhere.
Abstract: The historiography of Western medicine in colonial India has predominantly been analysed from the perspectives of the elite services – the Indian Medical Service (IMS) and their recruits. These group of people, principally Europeans, were entrusted with the health of British troops, officials and the Europeans living in colonial India. Later on, wealthy Indians were also brought under their ambit in exchange for large sums of money. Unfortunately, perceiving colonial medical practices through the lens of the IMS has remained inadequate to provide a nuanced understanding of the role played by Indians in the semi-urban and rural areas of colonial India.
This paper seeks to examine the contributions of local administration and the role played by the subordinate medical services in the diffusion of Western medical traditions among Indians. The paper uses the Madras Presidency as its case study and argues that hegemony worked in diverse ways among different groups in the province. This will shift the urban-centric focus and examine mostly the rural parts of the Presidency – the district hospitals and dispensaries located in the districts, taluks and villages. The paper intends to flesh out the changes in the Madras medical administration from the late nineteenth century until 1935 to argue how the subordinates were the ones controlling the local medical services, and thus pulling the strings of medical administration in the Presidency. Analysing this will demonstrate the uniqueness of Madras and how it disseminated Western medical care among locals. This will also, I hope, in the future open up new areas of research in understanding health care in other colonial contexts.