Leprosy in Colonial South India: Medicine and Confinement

By Jane. Buckingham | Go to book overview

3
Colonial Medicine in the Indigenous Context

During the first part of the nineteenth century, British leprosy treatment in the Madras presidency was guided principally by the inclination and judgement of the medical officers directly involved in the care of leprosy sufferers. There was some monitoring by the medical board and presidency government, but little interference. It was not until the 1860s that the attention of the Home government and Government of India was drawn to leprosy treatment, and the more distant levels of government began to direct British treatment of leprosy at the local level.

The relationship between British and indigenous medical practice changed considerably during the nineteenth century, and the treatment of leprosy, particularly the Indian patient's response to treatment, reflected the tensions and accommodations developing between the two systems.


The indigenous medical context

By the early nineteenth century, political and social upheaval, caused in part by the mughal incursions, had brought about a decline in the practice of indigenous medicine in India. 1 Even so, when British medical officers in Madras became involved in the medical treatment of leprosy in the early nineteenth century, they did not step into a treatment vacuum. There was already a complex indigenous medical response to leprosy which influenced British attempts to treat the disease. It is difficult to describe precisely the indigenous tradition which the British medical officers encountered in the Madras presidency. There was no fixed, pure tradition of indigenous medical practice in south India, and the principal southern indigenous textual

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