Curing Madness?: A Social and Cultural History of Insanity in Colonial North India, 1800-1950s
Oxford University Press, 2021 - History - 316 pages
Curing Madness? focusses on the institutional and non-institutional histories of madness in colonial north India. It proves that 'madness' and its 'cure' are shifting categories which assumed new meanings and significance as knowledge travelled across cultural, medical, national, and regional boundaries.
The book examines governmental policies, legal processes, diagnosis and treatment, and individual case histories by looking closely at asylums in Agra, Benaras, Bareilly, Lucknow, Delhi, and Lahore. Rajpal highlights that only a few mentally ill ended up in asylums; most people suffering from insanity were cared for by their families and local vaidyas, ojhas, and pundits. These practitioners of traditional medicine had to reinvent themselves to retain their relevance as Western medical knowledge was widely disseminated in colonial India. Evidence of this is found in the Hindi medical advice literature of the era. Taking these into account Shilpi Rajpal moves beyond asylum-centric histories to examine extensive archival materials gathered from various repositories.
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This is an excellent book narrating the story of curing insanity (or not!) in colonial North India. Rajpal has visited dusty archives in remote locations, and institutions as varied as the Agra and Lahore mental asylums, with their roots in colonial times, to construct her narrative. The result is not just an impressive historical tome, but also an account where the stories of those deemed “insane” occupy centre stage, even as the author weighs in on larger debates about how the inequities and asymmetries of colonialism impinged upon the care and cure of madness in north India.