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

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Theorising Tuberculosis in India

Theorising Tuberculosis in India

Languished Hopes: Tuberculosis, the State and International Assistance in Twentieth-century India by Niels Brimnes, New Delhi: Orient BlackSwan, 2016; pp xiv + 318, price not indicated.


Growing up as the daughter of a physician in government service, the subject of tuberculosis featured often in family discussions at the dining table. My father would narrate the difficulties of ensuring the success of the directly observed treatment, short-course (DOTS) programme among tuberculosis-positive Indians, the worries regarding the surging multi-antibiotic-resistant disease, and the enduring relationships between poverty, access, and curing tuberculosis. I always had a sense of the disease as simultaneously easily controllable, but also extraordinarily elusive to the actors, and to the methods of biomedicine.

Diverse in its manifestations, and one of the oldest diseases to plague humanity, tuberculosis is a fascinating choice of subject. The disease has established itself firmly within both, the histories of medicine—by virtue of its relevance within urban, industrial spaces in the global North in the 19th century—as well as within literary constructions as a “romantic” affliction. Yet, little has been written about the trajectories of this disease in the majority worlds. In other respects too, there is no better time to be discussing tuberculosis. Multi-antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis is a spectre that menaces resource-strapped countries across the world, and continues to contribute towards the existing disease burden, economic costs, and social fractures. This is the disease that Niels Brimnes follows in his book, with methodical and detailed attention to a wonderfully rich body of evidence, culled from archives across the world. He, thus, makes a valuable and timely contribution to a field that has largely been restricted to the experiences of Europe and the Americas.

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