History India South Asia · History of Medicine · Medicine & Doctors

How the 1835 Calcutta Medical College catalyzed the ascendancy of biomedicine in India

Two versions of this essay were published recently. I wrote one for the KEM Hospital Mumbai’s internal publication, named ‘Reflections on Medical Humanities’. The other version was published by the Wire on 29th March 2019, full article here.

Below are some excerpts:

One of the most striking developments in the first year of the CMC was human dissection by Indian students. While there is evidence of some sort of dissection in early Ayurvedic texts, the handling of dead bodies had over time become strongly associated with caste-related prejudices. Training in neither of the two major medical traditions (Ayurveda and Unani) incorporated comprehensive anatomical instructions. For British doctors, on the other hand, anatomy had become an indispensable part of medical training by the early 1800s. In fact, one of the main objections against the NMI was its lack of focus on practical anatomy.

At the CMC, however, things were going to be different. Mountford Joseph Bramley, the college’s principal, began with theoretical anatomical lessons for a few months before taking his Indian students into the dissecting room. This first dissection, frequently celebrated as the first ever human dissection by Indians in the modern period, took place in October 1836. It was led by Madhusudan Gupta, who previously was an Ayurveda teacher at the NMI. This event was extensively publicised in Britain as an achievement of Western ‘superiority’, and a few years later a portrait of Gupta was put up in the CMC, where it still hangs.

Intellectual debt towards:

David Arnold, Colonizing the Body: State Medicine and Epidemic Disease in Nineteenth-Century India

Poonam Bala, Medicine and Medical Policies in India: Social and Historical Perspectives

Jayanta Bhattacharya, The genesis of hospital medicine in India: The Calcutta Medical College (CMC) and the emergence of a new medical epistemology

Mark Harrison, Public Health in British India: Anglo-Indian Preventive Medicine 1859–1914

Zhaleh Khaleeli, Harmony or hegemony? The rise and fall of the native medical institution, Calcutta, 1822-35.


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