Psychiatrists, psychiatry and the colonial state in the first half of 20th century India
Lecture by Shilpi Rajpal (Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali)
On May 31st,
Location: Arts and Humanities Common Room (G24), Foster Court, Malet Place, University College London.
Abstract: By the mid-20th century some psychiatrists were performing important roles in transforming the nature of psychiatry in India. Wider exposure to international trends was an important feature of 20th-century psychiatry in India as its enthusiastic practitioners not only travelled widely but also experimented with new methods of treatment. These efforts were frequently confined to individuals and cannot be generalised. The colonial state maintained an apathetic attitude towards the mentally ill and mental illness. Nonetheless, the concept of a specialist emerged in this period. Some of these specialists dedicated their lives to the cause of studying insanity, and some of the central asylums became hubs for psychiatric deliberations. These deliberations were among these individuals and the colonial state. These negotiations were sometimes successful but at other times failed. What should be kept in mind is that innovation and interest depended entirely on the zeal of the superintendent-in-charge. His motivation was his own as the government did not have much stake in the process. The change also included bringing psychiatry in India in line with international developments in the field. These changes however should not be understood in terms of teleological growth. The paper attempts to analyse the novelties in terms of psychoanalysis and other international factors, such as the mental hygiene movement. It focuses on debates in the official circles, and juxtaposes these individual efforts to governmental attempts to revamp the psychiatric infrastructure.