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Fragmentary History of Reproductive Health

Krishna Soman

Edited by Sarah Hodges
Orient Longman, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 264 ix, Rs. 620.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 10 October 2006

The book under review is an outcome of a conference on “ Population, Birth Control and Reproductive Health in Late Colonial India”, held at the Centre for the History and Culture of Medicine, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. It is also one in the series of New Perspectives in South Asian History.   This academic book under review is topical at the beginning of the 21st century when politics and controversies continue to shape and redefine notions of reproduction and reproductive health in the context of women’s lives in changing societies. The volume — for its title – will certainly draw the attention of a wide range of scholars engaged in not only social science inquiries in the history of medicine but also public health, women’s right to health among other areas of interest. The extent to which it fulfills their expectations, however, will be told by concerned readers in time. Edited by Sara Hodges, the volume presents a collection of essays from eight established scholars reflecting on the history, politics and controversies of ‘reproductive health’ in India. The introduction ‘Towards a History of Reproduction’ offers a canvas for display of the individual essays. The essays cover almost a century spanning broadly between 1850 and 1950. According to the editor, this is the period that reflects on ‘modern India’. Besides essays by individual scholars, the volume also presents an archival document as reference. Squarely, the essays can be clubbed into three broad categories dealing with institutional histories in India, histories of the affected stratified Indian society and simultaneous debates on birth control in the global sphere.   Based on the official medical work and writings in early 20 century India, David Arnold, in his piece on official attitudes to population, birth control and reproductive health , interprets that women’s reproductive health at that time was a low priority on the state’s agenda. Rather, it was propagation of birth control that received much importance as this was considered as a practical way of curbing population growth. Colonial medical officers however, did not blindly support this attitude of their administrative counterparts. Though the Bhore committee had later emphasized better health care for women, birth control was seldom considered as a means to improve their health. During the period under observation, while presence of women doctors in medical services was noticeable, there was no consensus among them on propagation and promotion of birth control ...

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