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Leprosy in Bombay - a historical thesis

Posted Mar 24 2009 3:58pm
Leprosy is now an almost forgotten disease. However, it used to a major scourge in the past - and there is a lot we can learn about doctors, social attitudes , philanthropists , religious attitudes and coping mechanisms by studying how we dealt with this in the past.

Dr Shubhada Pandya has kindly published her PhD thesis on Leprosy in Bombay from 1840-1897, A Historical Thesis and this is now available online at
http://issuu.com/malpani/docs/leprosyinbombay.

...there is a need for a comprehensive study of leprosy in the colonial period, based on social, medical, legal, and policy perspectives, and which addresses Indian anxieties and responses.
The Bombay Presidency has been selected as a location for three reasons. It was a microcosm of India. It was unique among the three Presidencies in that it was there that the capitalist system on which the British Indian empire was founded, produced the largest number of Indian commercial magnates, -- the shethias. Also, the introduction of Western education resulted in the rise of an articulate and politically conscious English-educated professional class. Missionary involvement in leprosy was comparatively low key in this Presidency, being confined to running a few small asylums by the close of the century.27 Thirdly, Bombay was the backdrop for important medical and therapeutic studies on the disease by Indian and British doctors, providing an opportunity to investigate their motives and biases. The period selected for study, namely 1840 to 1897, was marked by growing anxiety, activism and medical curiosity about leprosy.


This little gem can teach us a lot about how we dealt with dreaded diseases in the past. While leprosy has become much more manageable, I am sure we will have other diseases to deal with in the future , such as AIDS and bird flu. We can improve the way we respond to these social crises by learning from our mistakes made in the past.
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