Leprosy in Colonial South India: Medicine and Confinement

By Jane. Buckingham | Go to book overview
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Indian and British Concepts of Leprosy and of the Leprosy Sufferer

During the nineteenth century, British understanding of leprosy and of the Indian leprosy sufferer underwent considerable change. Humoral understandings of leprosy increasingly gave way to a more modern scientific concept of the disease and there were considerable changes in the British perception of the leprosy sufferer. In the early nineteenth-century, a leprosy sufferer was typically understood by the British in India to be Indian or Eurasian, male, poor and vagrant. What precisely constituted the disease of leprosy was still not clear. By the close of the century, the British had a coherent understanding of leprosy as a disease, and had come to recognize both the presence of leprosy in the Indian middle classes and the susceptibility of Europeans to the illness. Meanwhile, Indian understanding of leprosy and of the position of the leprosy sufferer had changed little. While the dharmaśāstra, the science of law, sacred duty and righteousness, placed restrictions on the leprosy sufferer's right to inherit and even prescribed outcasting in some circumstances, in practice most Indian leprosy sufferers continued in their family and working life, little hindered by the Hindu proscriptions.


Nineteenth-century indigenous and British understandings of leprosy

In the early nineteenth century, indigenous medical traditions accommodated a variety of medical understandings of leprosy. Siddha, the Tamil indigenous medical system, and Ayurveda, the Sanskrit system, recognized 18 types of leprosy, comprising seven forms of

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