Leprosy in Colonial South India: Medicine and Confinement

By Jane. Buckingham | Go to book overview

7
Confining Leprosy Sufferers: the Lepers Act

If the initiation of the Leprosy Commission was a reflection of both British admiration for Fr Damien and fear of the disease, then the Government of India's March 1889 decision to employ ‘special legislation’ was also as much a reflection of fear as of the change in viceroys in December 1888 from Dufferin to Lansdowne. On 15 June 1889, ‘a Bill to make provision for the isolation of lepers and the amelioration of their condition’ was circulated for comment to all local government and administrative authorities in India. 1


The 1889 Leprosy Bill

The 1889 Bill revived the issue of forced confinement of vagrant leprosy sufferers raised in the 1840s, and again by the Royal College of Physicians' report. As before, it was not those of the higher socio-economic classes with leprosy, but those who were also vagrant and poor, the majority of whom were Indian and Eurasian, who were identified by British authorities as a group for whom, in Foucault's terms, confinement was a natural condition and the asylum a true ‘homeland’. 2

The limitation of confinement to vagrant leprosy sufferers alone and the absence of disease-control measures to regulate the work and, if necessary, movements of non-vagrant leprosy sufferers, were matters of dispute among British and Indian authorities, as they had been in Norway. Criticism of the 1889 Leprosy Bill marked the beginning of a decade's debate and negotiation over the terms of legal compulsory confinement of leprosy sufferers in India. Comment on the Bill from the Madras presidency indicated the extent of conflict among medical, legal and administrative authorities within

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