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Did you know about the colonization of insanity in the subcontinent?

Updated: May 18, 2023


Did you know about the colonization of insanity in the subcontinent?

It was the British who brought lunatic asylums to the Indian Subcontinent. By the early 19th century, three small institutions opened in Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta, set up originally only for Europeans.

However, the East India Company decided to put in place a system to send Europeans back to England as they continued to expand, making room for natives to be treated at these asylums.

Transplanting European ideas of treating the mentally ill into Indian society, however, proved difficult. Unlike how easily they managed to manifest Macaulay’s dream into society at large, they could not do so in asylums.

This led to mismanagement, an extremely profitable trade in the “mad business” for private investors, and European doctors to arbitrarily apply the then-contemporary ideas of moral management at will, interpreting however they thought was best suited to colonial models.

One example of such insanity-based treatment is the use of restraint. While using chains and straight jackets became the subject of much debate in Europe, in British India, "laid hands upon by natives" became the guise to continue a practice otherwise starting to be regarded as “inhumane" for Europeans.

Lord Dalhousie, governor-general (1848 to 1856), made major reforms for the British in terms of running these asylums. He firmly believed that colonial state policy should be paternalist, cost-effective, and interventionist. He abolished the medical board in place previously, which made collective decisions, replacing it with a director general instead, and set in place the system of putting an officer in charge of a specific hospital.

 

This blog has been written by Komal Salman.

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