Diseases of Containment: Leprosy, Syphillis, the law and the construction of the diseased body in Colonial South India 1860-1900.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
Between 1860 and 1900 the British Government in India – along with many other areas of the world – enacted numerous legal acts which superficially sought to prevent or control the transmission of disease. The implementation of legislative efforts attempted to identify and control subcultures that were marked as transmitters of infection. Thus legislation combined medical, legal and cultural concepts which formed the framework for the construction of societal control of infections.
The Madras Presidency offers two tangible examples of this association of medicine, law and society. The Cantonment Regulations (1864), which were the origin of the Contagious Diseases Act (1868), were introduced to control venereal disease, while the Lepers Act (1898) was directed at leprosy sufferers. These laws embodied the official response to two diseases which attracted significant attention in Victorian culture. Evidenced within these statutes are the cultural markers of the society which engendered them. This thesis compares these two acts and explores how these acts were the product of similar cultural mores. A thematic approach has been adopted to examine how these acts are consequently coloured by characterisations of gender, race, class, colonialism, politics and morality.
Leprosy and syphilis are biologically unrelated diseases. Prior to the twentieth century however, difficulties in diagnosis saw these two diseases often confused with one another. Additionally, these diseases were deeply stigmatizing and carried an imagined significance out of proportion to their biological impact. This thesis analyses the way in which this legislation reified the corporeal form of sufferers. A visibly diseased body was constructed, which then allowed authorities to focus their efforts on the control of specifically identified groups, segregate them and render the visible invisible.
As a consequence of these pieces of legislation, marginalised groups were stigmatised as the visible carriers of disease and subjected to governmental restrictions by statutes that were embedded with the culture mores of the British in India, providing an illustration not so much of sanitary control but social control.