Madness Then, Insanity Now: The Evolution of Madness and Medicine in India from Ancient to Modern Times
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My thesis will examine how madness and the medical systems that understood it have changed from ancient times to modern times in India. It begins with an examination of medicine in the Vedic era and considers the implications of a magico-religious epistemology that informed the treatment of madness in that time. From there, it moves on to the classical Ayurvedic systems of medicine and discusses the linkages and points of difference from the earlier system. In short, medicine generally becomes more empirically grounded, and madness is seen as having both somatic causes as well as external, “possession” causes. I then fast forward to the colonial era to focus on the development of the insane asylum under the British over the nineteenth century and the new authority relationships, power structures, and race relations that were implicated in the process. This is an especially crucial point in my thesis, and I spend many pages examining the topic because it is the first time that madness becomes institutionalized in the subcontinent. The next section moves on to the early twentieth century to understand how Ayurveda, dominant mostly in rural areas and long unrecognized by the colonial government, becomes resurrected for a modernized world and plays an important role in the debates around Indian nationalism. Finally, my last section uses anthropological sources to understand the nature of madness and its ties to kinship relations in contemporary India.