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Of Continuities and Discontinuities

Rajib Dasgupta

Edited by Amiya Kumar Bagchi and Krishna Soman
Tulika Books, New Delhi, 2005, pp. xi 173, Rs. 350.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 9 September 2006

This edited volume of ten chapters is an output of a national seminar ‘Colonial and Post-Colonial Experience’ organized by the Department of History, Kolkata University and the Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata with support from the Indian Council of Social Science Research. The contributors are scholars of eminence in the fields of public health and history and this linkage is relevant for the understanding of public health issues and plan for appropriate action. Certain strands of contemporary public health are increasingly divesting themselves of historicity and are looking for quick-fix solutions that are often not in consonance with the contextual situation of the particular problem. This volume not only puts back the strong bonds of history and public health on the forefront but bridges the ‘Continuities and Discontinuities’ (to borrow the title of Qadeer’s chapter) of the colonial and postcolonial era at a time when public health education in India is set for radical changes. The volume is dedicated to Sahib Singh Sokhey. Major General Sahib Singh Sokhey is a shining example of continuity across colonial and postcolonial periods. He headed the Sub-Committee on National Health (popularly, Sokhey Committee) of the National Planning Committee that was constituted with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as its Chairman in 1938. It made significant contributions on a number of issues including integration of medical education. He was also among the first group of nominated members of the Rajya Sabha; nominated as a medical scientist. In 1953 he said in Parliament that “A Parliamentary Government does not ipso facto become a democracy” and added, “…all Honourable Members here and all Members of every party should realize that…we have to deliberately work and act in the true spirit of democracy”. This is as true of the spirit of public health. It is significant that the editors have titled their overview chapter as ‘Public Health and Nutrition’ though nutrition per se is not a major theme of the volume. This essential link and the thesis that historically, in nineteenth century England and Wales, improvement in the environment – a rising standard of living, particularly, improved diet, and, hygienic changes introduced by the sanitary reformers was responsible for a large reduction of mortality. While debate over this McKeown’s thesis has recently been reopened, Sheila Zurbrigg’s analysis of data from pre-Independence Punjab has thrown up additional evidence on the importance of nutrition and welfare measures. It is extremely relevant ...

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