ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Complex Picture of Public Health

Health Care in Bombay Presidency 1896-1930 by Mridula Ramanna (New Delhi: Primus Books), 2012; pp x + 202 (Hb), Rs 795.

Health Care in Bombay Presidency 1896-1930 by Mridula Ramanna is a well-brought out book. It attempts to move out of the much-studied 18th century to look at the early 19th century’s medical history of India and adds fresh historical material on some aspects of public health in that period. In exploring the introduction of modern medicine in India and its socio-cultural reverberations, the book’s focus is on nuances within attitudes, both British and Indian, highlighting semi- and non-official efforts at tackling public health and examining how the practitioners of Indian systems responded to modern interventions. These aspects are explored in several domains of public health such as the plague epidemic, promotion of sanitary consciousness, changing reactions to hospitalisation, maternal health and welfare, and relative position of Indian and western medicine. Each of these constitute a chapter. The scope is thus expansive, which is a strength as well as a weakness as the chapters are uneven and the whole remains inchoate despite a brief conclusion after the six chapters.

The narrative of the early years of plague in the first chapter brings out forcefully the futility and irrationality of preventive measures such as burning, breaking and digging dwellings and soaking railway passengers’ luggage, including the clothes they wore, in phenyl! It also describes the force of resistance emerging out of the anger and hurt among different sections leading to violence, rumours and riots. A lot of untapped evidence is presented to show the depth of this conflict and the suspicion and arrogance on the two sides. There were rumours about hospitals giving injections to kill and take the hearts out to be sent to the queen of England to appease her wrath as her statue was disfigured in India.

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