ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Some Political Questions

Preserving Traditional Healing

Priests and mediums associated with "healing" folk cults have also been viewed as empowered agents of alternative modernity, and outside the priest's caste or class-based social context. In reality, the healer is often poor, and belongs to a lower caste. He or she is subject to the demands of the upper caste, rich clans, while ritually diagnosing the ailments of the latter's dependents in return for financial and political support.

There are several anthropological hypotheses (Davar and Lohokare 2009; Sax 2009, Malik 2009) about the healing and justice providing powers, mechanisms, rituals and propensities of rural or “folk” deities that are pertinent for local “communities” of believers and that essentialise these deities as non-universal and region-specific phenomena, external to the anthropologist. Those who are in favour of conserving traditional healing, critique modern western medical services in India that form the bulwark of public health, to the extent of terming the conserved traditional healing that in their opinion should be practised in accompaniment with modern medical care as a form of “alternative modernity”. Priests and mediums associated with these “healing” folk cults have also been viewed as “healers” or as empowered agents of this alternative modernity, an epistemic context existing only within the anthropological discourse, existing outside the priest’s caste or class-based social context of ritual practice. In reality, the healer who is often poor and belongs to a lower caste in many villages is completely subject to the demands of the upper caste, rich clans, while ritually diagnosing the ailments of the latter’s dependents in return for financial and political support.

Similarly, the relationship between midwives and their child-birthing female clients has often been romanticised. My aim here is not to rob relationships between women of their beauty when I state that midwives in upper caste-dominated villages of rural Maharashtra are more often interested in appeasing the female client’s upper caste and rich clans rather than in building relationships of support across caste, that become politically problematic for them, especially when they are blamed for the newborn’s death. The problem is that an “individuality” assumed in personal relationships between priests and devotees is neatly superimposed on the healer-client imaginative counterpart by this anthropologically reflective dualism, which obliterates the complexity and interrelationships in decision-making, when women and their clans negotiate with mediums and midwives, who are intricately woven into caste and clan village networks.

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