Reproductive Health and Child Birth: Revisiting the Technological Intervention in Colonial Bengal

The proposed study seeks to engage with two things: first, it intends to explore the historical trajectory which made technological intervention in reproductive health and child birth in colonial Bengal a pressing medical imperative, and second, it will attempt to explicate the cultural implications of this intervention in an era of cultural transition from pre-modern to “modern” under the British rule. In recent writings on reproductive health, a sharp historical focus on the use of surgical instruments and its socio-cultural and technological implications for a tradition-bound society like India is curiously lacking. All the major scholarly interventions made so far in this direction have confined themselves to intermittent references to surgical instruments and their impact on the colonized. Even in nineteenth century Britain, when medical profession was characterized by tradition and prejudices about women was slow to recognize the real needs of women, the development of obstetrics and gynecology was not a smooth one. Indian medical world also was certainly not lacking in such problems. The same holds true of caesarian section which slowly crept into Indian medical vocabulary at the beginning of the twentieth century, but was slow to gain recognition. In fact, few more questions are in order: First, when did forceps make their foray into the Indian medical world and how exactly did they grope their way through the socio-cultural taboos that characterized the contemporary Bengali society? What was the implication of the use of such techniques for the Bengali society where the cultural and gender stereotypes often worked in tandem as major impediments to the free acceptance of any innovation? Given the fact that child birth was conventionally perceived as a natural process that warranted little technical intervention and was looked upon as an exclusively female domain, the impact of introduction of forceps merits fresh interrogation.

Arabinda Samanta is Professor of History in the University of Burdwan Golapbag (West Bengal, India) and Coordinator of the University Grant Commission Special Assistance Programme in New Delhi. Books Published: Malarial Fever in Colonial Bengal: Social History of an Epidemic. Kolkata, 2002 ; Rog Rogi O Rashtra (Disease, the Patients and the State) Kolkata, 2005 ; Praakitik Biparjaay O Manush (Natural Hazards and Man) Kolkata, 2006 ; The Revolt of 1857: Memory Identity History eds, Kolkata, 2009 ; Locating Epidemics: Colonial Bengal, 1920s- 1940s, (in Press).

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