Thesis ID: CBB683556461

Healing and Harming: The "Noble Profession" of Medicine in Post-Independence India, 1947-2015 (2022)


This dissertation, based on archival research in Marathi, English, and Hindi, explores the history of people’s perceptions of and experiences with biomedical doctors in post-independence India. I analyze and historicize a contemporary dominant narrative among India’s doctors, that the “deterioration” in the patient-doctor relationship has its origins in the intensified privatization and commercialization of healthcare which followed the Indian state’s economic liberalization policies in the 1980s and 1990s. I show that contrary to this understanding, medical practice in India was considerably commercialized, and public dissatisfaction substantial, even in the early post-independence decades (1950s-1970s). I suggest that answers to public distrust in physicians lie less in commercialism and more in the dominance of privileged-caste and -class Indians in the medical profession. This dominance nurtured a caste privilege-based elitist outlook within the mainstream profession and its leadership, and created an insurmountable socioeconomic distance between doctors and the large majority of the public. People in India had trustful relationships less with doctors and more with local, community-based practitioners (who freely practiced many forms of medicine). What doctors deemed as people’s “trust” in them and their profession was often simply a manifestation of people’s general deference toward the elites of the society. This dissonant interpretation has been a constant feature of the narratives around the doctor-society relationship in post-independence India, but has remained largely unacknowledged in the medical and public discourse, and continues to create multiple challenges for healthcare policy today.

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Authors & Contributors
Downey, Greg
Dirks, Nicholas B.
Feierman, Steven
Paddayya, K.
Schott, Heinz G.
Van Hollen, Cecilia Coale
Medicina nei Secoli - Arte e Scienza
Public Understanding of Science
Science in Context
Science, Technology, and Human Values
Mefisto: Rivista di medicina, filosofia, storia
Medicina Historica
University of Pennsylvania
Cambridge University Press
Archaeological Survey of India
Bloomsbury Academic
Johns Hopkins University Press
Social class
Doctor-patient relationships
Public health
François-Vincent Raspail
Time Periods
21st century
20th century
19th century
18th century
20th century, late
United States
Rome (Italy)

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