Veins of Devotion: Blood Donation and Religious Experience in North India

Veins of Devotion: Blood Donation and Religious Experience in North India

Veins of Devotion: Blood Donation and Religious Experience in North India

Veins of Devotion: Blood Donation and Religious Experience in North India

Synopsis

According to public health orthodoxy, blood for transfusion is safer when derived from voluntary, nonremunerated donors. As developing nations phase out compensated blood collection efforts to comply with this current policy, many struggle to keep their blood stores up.

Veins of Devotion details recent collaborations between guru-led devotional movements and public health campaigns to encourage voluntary blood donation in northern India. Focusing primarily on Delhi, Jacob Copeman carefully situates the practice within the context of religious gift-giving, sacrifice, caste, kinship, and nationalism. The book analyzes the operations of several high-profile religious orders that organize large-scale public blood-giving events and argues that blood donation has become a site not only of frenetic competition between different devotional movements, but also of intense spiritual creativity.

Despite tensions between blood banks and these religious groups, their collaboration is a remarkable success story- the nation's blood supply is replenished while blood donors discover new devotional possibilities.

Excerpt

In 2002 the spiritual head, or guru, of the Beas branch of the Radhasoami movement was given a guided tour of the newly established Rotary blood bank in Delhi. According to the blood bank’s director, Dr. N. K. Bhatia, the guru “was extremely happy, he blessed us all, he had some snacks with us, he even took a Coke.” Later the guru granted a private audience to a member of the blood bank team. At its conclusion, he presented her with prashad, sanctified substance imparted to devotees in token of the guru’s divine favor, often consisting of sweets, flowers, and other “leavings.” in this instance, the prashad consisted of a small packet of sweets and a piece of paper. On the paper was written: “Every month, one camp.” the prashad, in other words, took the form of a promise. the guru would instruct his devotees to organize blood donation events (known as camps, or in Hindi, shibir) throughout the year at their different places of worship. Having toured the blood bank, the guru thus offered up his numerous devotees as a new and vital blood donor constituency.

In India as elsewhere, the transfusion and donation of blood are far from being purely technical processes restricted to medics concerned with practical medical matters. Rather, they are procedures that transcend their official purposes, and that, in so doing, shed light on multiple aspects of social life. This book tells the story of the complex intertwinings that have developed over recent years between reform-minded north Indian devotional orders and campaigns to foster voluntary blood donation among the Indian population. Focusing in particular on the situation in Delhi, it documents and interprets the blood donation operations of several high-profile religious movements that organize gargantuan public blood-giving assemblages (camps) involving vast numbers of people, and other heavily publicized campaigns of record-breaking proportions as conspicuous acts of service (seva). Blood donation, I shall argue, has become a site not only of frenetic competition between devotional orders . . .

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