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In Session: Why Traditional Medicine? Assessing Reasons and Efforts to Reclaim Traditional Medicines in South Asia
4: Traditional Tensions: The Plural Voices of Yunani Medicine in the Usman Report, 1923
Monday, March 22, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Reed College, United States
This paper examines the historical moment when Indian intellectuals formalized the language and infrastructure for managing traditional medical knowledge in colonial India. In 1923, the Presidency of Madras published The Report of the Committee on the Indigenous Systems of Medicine, the first of many efforts to regulate the education and practice of ayurvedic, yunani and siddha medicine. It is remarkable for its nearly five-hundred pages of testimonies from traditional medical practitioners throughout India. In addition to the expected tensions between indigenous (desi) medicine and emergent biomedicine, these testimonies reveal the contests for medical authority within traditions which formalize a new kind of boundary-making between medical authority grounded in the universal ambitions of global science and that of local traditions of apprenticeship and family practice. While the former was endowed with the aura of high modernism, the latter came to represent the authenticity of continuously transmitted local knowledge. This paper examines how the voices of practitioners of yunani medicine simultaneously expressed and diverged from these two poles of authority, containing both a historical imaginary for the global and a conception of the local reconciled with other desi traditions. These voices attest to the inherent instability of colonial state-knowledge projects which required the elision of such internal tensions. Because those tensions insinuate themselves into policy infrastructures, this colonial story also contextualizes why traditional medicine institutions endure as a fraught assemblage in the post-colonial period.