SOAS University of London

SOAS South Asia Institute

Negotiating healthcare and its transformation in the Madras Presidency (1880-1935)

Arnab Chakraborty

Date: 19 February 2020Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 19 February 2020Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Paul Webley Wing (Senate House) Room: Wolfson Lecture Theatre

Type of Event: Seminar


The paper is a critical examination of the factors that contributed to the transformation and evolution of western healthcare in the Madras Presidency between c.1880-1935. With a focus on the impact of the martial-race theory in the process of Madras army recruitment, this study explains how deeply connected the healthcare, military, and political administration were in the region. The work profiles medical officers and subordinates – both British and Indian, male and female – serving in the Madras Presidency during the period under review.

This study explores the shift of Western medicine through the decline of the Madras Army and follows it up by analysing the roles of elite, subordinate, and female medical services in the context of Madras Presidency. Civilian healthcare and its development were achieved with a systematic and systemic change in the army recruitment system in this presidency. An in-depth examination of Madras and its local population shows the role played by the subordinates and intermediaries in aiding and shaping medical practices. This paper recasts the idea of the usual coloniser-colonised narrative and elevates the local medical subordinates in a more commanding position, particularly in the rural areas. Formation of local pockets of power down to the village administrative level made sure the British had far less control and dominance over the medical marketplace than what the present historiography suggests.

This paper studies military, healthcare, socio-political, gender issues together, which have rarely been attempted while studying colonial India. It endeavours to do so through a critical re-examination of some previously used materials and the utilisation of some hitherto unused sources from different archives.


Arnab Chakraborty has recently defended his thesis ‘Medical Transformation in Madras Presidency: Military and Civilian Perspectives’. His doctoral research was from the University of York, funded by the Wellcome Trust. For his thesis, he has done extensive research in the UK, India, and also at the Rockefeller archives. His wider research interests include public health, health policies in the context of gender and military in South Asia and elsewhere. He is now with the Centre for Global Health Histories at York as a Knowledge Exchange Fellow working with the World Health Organisation in disseminating and organising research on global health. He is also the Assistant Editor of the journal Medical History, and book reviews editor of the journal Social History of Alcohol and Drugs.  

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Organiser: SOAS South Asia Institute

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