a guest post by Rafia Zakaria, columnist Dawn Pakistan.
A ripe 110 years ago, in the year 1903, the Second Imperial Durbar was held in Delhi, to celebrate the coronation of King Edward the VII and Queen Alexandria as Emperor and Empress of India. Neither could attend, but Lord Curzon, then Viceroy of the Indian colony, decided that it would be a great opportunity to appropriate the spectacle as homage to the British rule of India. To insure that the spectacle would be appropriately, spectacular he ordered all the minion Maharajas of the Empire to arrive in their traditional garb, with large retinues, silks and elephants and punkahs; so they would look like Maharajas. In this neat directive, the Indian love of protocol was thus successfully employed in the service of Empire. That the arriving “rulers’ were not “rulers” but vassals of Empire, that their retinues and turbans and everything else meant nothing at all in relation to their ability to rule themselves, was the farce behind it all.
The British left and Pakistan and India exchanged their misgivings against the British Empire with petty barbs and nuclear weapons directed at each other. It is a consuming concern; and has occupied millions on either side with its continuing pettiness and puffery for a near century. On either side; the love of pomp and protocol has remained; flagellated into democratic norms on one side and military machinations on the other. Indians and Pakistani leaders are united in their love of appropriating the discriminatory racism that was once heaped on them on the lesser others of their respective countries. Importance, value, worth on either side of the border equals never being mistaken for those ordinary hordes; And nowhere is this most visible than in the constellations of power, the subcontinent elected office means command over convoys of cars, flashing lights, security details and never, ever, the ignominy of being treated “just like everyone else” Continue reading “The Delhi Durbar and the Indian Diplomat by Rafia Zakaria”
By the end of the nineteenth century, ayurveda along with other indigenous systems of medicine such as unani (Graeco-Arabic medicine) and siddha (South Indian Tamil traditional medicine) were profoundly influenced by their encounters with Western medicine. The closing decades of the nineteenth century witnessed a proliferation of books on ayurveda in English, Sanskrit, and vernacular languages as the proponents of ayurveda “tried to transform the hitherto relatively inaccessible knowledge into social knowledge as well as a shared system of knowledge among the practitioners”. This outpouring of ayurvedic publications roughly coincided with the rise of nationalism in general and that of Hindu revivalist nationalism in particular. It was also a response to the colonial government’s decision in 1835 to suspend the teaching of ayurveda in the Calcutta Medical College.
While of crucial significance to this early period, ayurvedic publications addressing the theme of ayurvedic knowledge and history continued to sustain the movement through the first half of the twentieth century. Also, Ayurvedic practitioners organized themselves as a professional interest group through the founding of the All India Ayurvedic Congress (A.I.A.C.) in 1907. The annual conferences organized by the A.I.A.C provided another key forum for revival efforts. The proceedings of these conferences along with books, tracts, and journals provide useful source material for the historian interested in understanding how the proponents of ayurveda positioned themselves and their art within the larger nationalist discourse that envisioned a modern, scientific, progressive future for India. … Three themes were central to the ayurvedic revivalist discourse contained in the literature on ayurveda and the conference proceedings of the A.I.A.C: British Orientalism, the synthesis of medical systems, and institutionalization of ayurveda.
British Orientalism refers to a set of ideas and practices inaugurated under Warren Hastings, Governor-General of Bengal from 1773 to 1785 that sought to know and understand the languages and culture of India as a key step toward good governance. Deploying eighteenth century Enlightenment ideals, British Orientalists such as William Jones and Henry Thomas Colebrooke translated ancient texts, posited a Vedic golden age of Aryan Hindus, identified Sanskrit as the fount of Indian civilization, and in the process stimulated a vigorous intellectual and cultural ‘renaissance’ among the Bengali elite. This generally positive attitude to ancient Indian culture coexisted alongside the denigration of contemporary conditions which served to justify the British presence in India. In response to this, early reformers such as Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833) sought to selectively reform and recast Hindu socio-religious practices while drawing upon the Orientalist discourse of early glory and achievement – a trend that would characterize several reform and revival movements in colonial India.
Aryans, antiquity, Vedic civilization – ideas that were at the heart of British Orientalism – were invoked in the service of ayurveda. In an early (1895) and widely acknowledged contribution to the ayurvedic revival movement, Bhagvat Sinh Jee, the Maharaja of Gondal (a princely state in western India), Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, and later Vice-President of the Indian Medical Association, provided a brief sketch of Hindu achievements in astronomy, mathematics, chemistry, music, religion, philosophy, architecture, lexicography, grammar, and the art of war during a Vedic golden age and argued that
All this unmistakably proves that the Aryans were the most enlightened race in the dawn of history. … When the state of civilization was so perfect, and when all sorts of useful sciences were regularly studied, there should be no wonder if the science of Medicine too received its share of attention. This Science forms part of the Vedas, and is called “Ayur Veda” or the “Science of Life.”
At Madison, I attended a panel “Medicene, Science, Sex” as part of the series of panels celebrating the careers of Prof Geraldine Forbes and Prof Barbara Ramusack. In audience were some of the greats of South Asian history and Gender studies – including Prof Veena Oldenburg. One of the papers on the panel dealt with the history of mass sterilization movement in India and its global health partnerships. After the discussion that followed, Prof. Oldenburg narrated a story to me, from her own fieldwork in Lucknow, UP. It was such a fantastic story, that I begged her to write it up for the CM audience. It is a story that shows not only that “agency” we academics are forever harkening about, but that “humor” we sorely need. I am very grateful that she has written it out. Enjoy. – sepoy
In Ernakulam District of Kerala State, India, a massive vasectomy camp was conducted at Cochin, the capital city of the district, from 20 November to 20 December 1970. This camp was organized under the leadership of the district collector and the District Family Planning Bureau with the assistance of other departmets of government, the local civic leadership, and voluntary agencies throughout the district. At this camp 15,005 vasectomies were performed, setting an all-India record. Encouraged by the success of the first camp, the collector and the family planning bureau organized a second one-month long sterilization camp in July 1971 in the same city. At this camp, or “Family Planning Festival” 62,913 vasectomies and 505 tubectomies were performed, exceeding by more than four times the all-India sterilization record set by the same district only seven months earlier. These massive sterilization camps have been hailed as a tremendous breakthrough in India’s family planning effort.
Mr. Kristnakumar, I.A.S., is the district collector of Ernakulam District, Kerala State.
– S. Krishnakumar. “Kerala’s Pioneering Experiment in Massive Vasectomy Camps,” Studies in Family Planning , Vol. 3, No. 8 (Aug., 1972), pp. 177-185
In Gujarat State, India, 221,933 vasectomies were performed during on eight week campaign. More than 1,000 vasectomy camps were held throughout the state. The decentralized approach had several advantages over the single camp approach: a wide coverage in terms of area and population was achieved; follow-up of acceptors was facilitated; and savings in expenditures on transportation were realized. Finally, the existence of multiple camps avoided the overcrowding and the heavy workload for doctors that could occur at a single camp.
Dr. Thakor, M.B.B.S., D.P.H., is the director of Health Services and Mr. Patel, M.S.W., M.P.H., is mass education media officer of the Family Planning Project, both in Gujarat State.
– V. H. Thakor and Vinod M. Patel, “The Gujarat State Massive Vasectomy Campaign,” Studies in Family Planning , Vol. 3, No. 8 (Aug., 1972), pp. 186-192
On a cool afternoon in January, 1976, in an alley not far from the Chowk Police Station in Lucknow, I arrived at the frequently visited home of Mirza Sahib, a putative great-grandson of Awadh’s last king, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. It was more like a two room tenement with an open space in the back where food was cooked and clothes were dried on a string. A shallow drain ran along the very narrow brick lane and behind the steps that led to the front door. My knock brought the middle-aged nawab to the door and he hastily ushered me in and shut the door. He nervously explained, looking over his shoulder in his compact sitting room, that he had an urgent task to perform. It was not a good time to talk about olden days when the present world had been turned upside down with “Sanjay Gandhi’s Emergency raj”, and that a big van with the nasbandhi (vasectomy) doctor was expected in a couple of hours in this locality.
He was referring to the coercive birth control policy of the ruling Congress Party under the Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi that had generated widespread resentment and fear in the country. He had been chosen by his community (Shia residents of Yahiya Gunj) to explain the perils of nasbandhi to them and he was in the middle of practicing his speech that he was to deliver in a few minutes. I nodded and made to leave but was stopped by an urgent banging on the door. He asked me to retreat to the back verandah where his wife, Begum Sahiba, was sitting with other women relatives, but I was too curious to see what was happening to proceed as asked. He opened the door to find his audience had completely filled the alley and he had to begin his talk immediately.
He put on his cap, held his right hand to his heart and made a polite bow to greet the crowd. Then he cleared his throat and asked his wife to ‘bring the water’. Begum Sahiba, delicately maneuvering behind the curtains, came into the room with a galvanized iron bucket, full of water. Mirza Sahib began rather diffidently: Logon, bhaiyon, aaj hum bahut khatre meing hain. People, Brothers we are in great danger today. Nasbandhi hamari mardani takat ko khatam kar degi, hamari aagey ki naslein paida hee nahin hongi, aur hamare jism mein gandagi aur bimaari phelaa degi. A vasectomy can destroy our manhood, wipe out our future generations, and disease our innards. Aap kisi bhi halat mein nasbandhi na karvain, chahe gorment aap ko paise de ya transistor radio de ya aapko naukri de. Under no condition must you agree to have a vasectomy even if the government tempts you with money or transistor radios or even jobs.”
Here he made a pregnant pause and picked up a brick that was lying in a corner of the room and placed it on its side to block the drain outside. He resumed: Aap iss eenth (brick) ko dekh rahe hain? Can you see this brick? On cue Begum Sahiba spilled the water from the bucket into the drain. The blockage made the water overflow and cover the street. ‘Yeh nasbandhi ki karvai hai,’ he said triumphantly. ‘Dekhiye jaise naali ka gand phail raha hai, aise hee bahar jaane wala gand aap ke jism mein phel jaye ga. This is what a vasectomy does; your own polluting emissions will collect inside and cause you to sicken.” He was now declaiming with considerable conviction; his explanations getting farther and farther from reality, describing how their male genitalia would wither and fall off and they would be eunuchs. The crowd made horrified noises and said that this was against God and religion but they were afraid of what the Government might do to enforce this policy. They cried death to the Congress Party and its leaders: Sanjay Gandhi murdabad! Indra Gandhi murdabad! Congress party murdabad!
Begum Sahiba was now back among the women, revealing to them about the horrors that would visit their men folk and make them sterile. A silence, induced by paan gilories in their mouths, felt tense.
The lusty sloganeering died down; a messenger brought the news that the van was only 4 kilometers away. Just when gloom and doom had taken hold of this crowd, an older man, an artisan of the chikaan embroidery industry, a Lucknow specialty, raised his voice. He said he had a remedy to help them all escape this fate, to escape the police who would arrest them for refusing to have vasectomies. His gnarled and bony hand withdrew a pouch from his kurta pocket and he held it aloft. For a mere five rupees each he could save them all. The interest in this remedy was instantaneous and five rupee notes came out of inside pockets in a hurry. The man opened his pouch and showed what this magic bullet might be. He had small neatly embroidered parchment vasectomy scars (nasbandhi ke taankey) that he would artfully place on a testicle of each man there. This would last at least a week with the kind of adhesive he would use. This is what they would have to show the paramedic and claim that they had already been sterilized. This would save the day, their tomorrows and their future generations. God is great.
My follow up research proved to me that this trick worked. I marveled at the artistry of the ruse. A year later the Emergency was lifted and a general election was called. The Congress Party did not return a single candidate as a member of parliament to the 85 seats from Uttar Pradesh, their former stronghold.
Veena Talwar Oldenburg
Professor of History, Baruch College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York