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Locating the MedicalExplorations in South Asian History$
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Rohan Deb Roy and Guy N.A. Attewell

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780199486717

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199486717.001.0001

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State Medicine or Medical State?

State Medicine or Medical State?

A Prison Epidemic in Colonial Burma, 1881

Chapter:
(p.103) 4 State Medicine or Medical State?
Source:
Locating the Medical
Author(s):

Jonathan Saha

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780199486717.003.0005

A devastating prison epidemic broke out in Thayetmyo jail in Lower Burma in the summer of 1881, resulting in the deaths of over one-hundred inmates. The event could be justifiably described as a failure of colonial bio-politics and the state’s use of Western medicine to preserve the lives of those under its care. Certainly all the medical interventions made to arrest the spread of the deadly disease were ineffective. Even diagnosis remained disputed. However, this episode also reveals the centrality of medical knowledge and practice to how colonial officials performed and enacted the state. The official inquiry into the epidemic demonstrates that Western medicine informed the disciplining of state practices. Rather than illustrating how medicine was deployed by the colonial state, the epidemic provides us with a window onto how the colonial state was shaped by medicine.

Keywords:   prison epidemic, Thayetmyo jail, Lower Burma, colonial bio-politics, state, Western medicine

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