Mothers and Infants of a Modern India: Who Should Provide for Their Health?

AHA Session 96
Coordinating Council for Women in History 8
Society for Advancing the History of South Asia 2
Friday, January 6, 2012: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Sheraton Ballroom V (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Rahul Nair, University of Denver
Rahul Nair, University of Denver

Session Abstract

Mothers and Infants of a Modern India: Who Should Provide for Their Health?

The primary focus of this panel is to analyze how competing groups in colonial and metropolitan cities in the British empire attempted to define who had the responsibility to provide institutions to lower maternal and infant mortality and to improve the health of women and infants among the poorer classes, with particular attention to women factory workers.  The time frame is the first half of the twentieth century when Indian nationalists were defining the nature of an Indian nation and what it could do more effectively for its citizens than the British had done for its subjects.  The presentations of the three panelists have relevance for cultural historians analyzing how discourses are constructed around mothers and infants to serve multiple interests of imperialists, industrialists, politicians, and voluntary social service organizations of Indians, Europeans and Americans.  They address medical historians concerned about how to improve maternal and infant health, especially to lower their mortality rates, both of which are still defined as a millennium goal; labor historians delineating the role of women laborers in emerging and established industries in colonial settings; urban historians examining the changing responsibilities of municipal governments and the resources needed to successfully achieve their goals; and historians of women in urban India whose alleged ignorance is deemed responsible for the ill-health of their children and even themselves.

The three papers contribute to a comparative spatial and geographical analysis on two levels.  First, between how Bombay, the second oldest British colonial port city (1661), and Madras, the oldest colonial port city (1639), directed municipal resources to two different types of institutions in efforts to lower maternal and infant mortality rates.  In 1917 the Madras Municipality began to establish comprehensive child welfare centers that provided ante and post-natal care for pregnant women and their infants up to one year of age.  In 1923 the Bombay Municipality began to open maternity homes where women could deliver their babies while the Municipality declaring, along with Indian millowners, that voluntary societies were best suited to providing infant welfare centers to dispense milk, support health visitors and organize baby weeks.  A second level of comparison is between key urban textile centers in the colonies-Bombay-and in the metropole-Manchester.  Here the tentative argument is that some poorer women in Bombay might have received better health care than was availableto their counterparts in Manchester.

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