Patient or Prisoner? Leprosy Sufferers in British Institutional Care
Since the publication of Foucault's Madness and Civilization (1961) and Discipline and Punish (1975), leprosy, poverty, criminality and insanity have tended to be understood less as discrete conditions and more as characteristics which unite those living ‘in the margins of the community’ and mark them out for exclusion. 1 In nineteenth-century colonial south India, the leprosy sufferer carried not only the ancient stigma of leprosy but also, to varying degrees, the nineteenth-century stigmas of vagrancy, poverty and criminality. Although leprosy affected all races and socio-economic groups, throughout the nineteenth century it was the poor and vagrant leprosy sufferers, the vast majority of whom were Indian and Eurasian, who were the focus of British attention and were subject to the imposition of British legal and medical authority. Even so, the leprosy sufferer was by no means a passive subject of British power. The leprosy sufferer's capacity to resist confinement and to contribute to the different levels of British medical, legal and government authority was far greater than that admitted by Foucault.
Until the Government of India proposed, in 1889, an act to confine leprous vagrants, much of the initiative for confinement in southern India was from local medical and charitable authorities, and involved disagreement and negotiation with both presidency governments and the Government of India. The relationship between poverty, criminality and leprosy was complex, and those in power had very different perceptions of the leprosy sufferer. The sufferer usually first experienced the links between poverty, leprosy and