Medicine, Healthcare and the Raj: The Unacknowledged Legacy

New book by Daya Varma

The book is a significant intervention in the debates and existing scholarship on colonialism and medicine. Equally critical of the postmodern perspectives and of those who claim modern medicine as ‘gift’ from the western world, virtually identifying modern medicine with ‘western’ medicine, Daya Varma sifts the irrational from the rational critiques of imperialism. He makes a strong defense of modern medicine, preventive care, hygiene and public health as core of a viable strategy for accessible medicine.

Particularly striking are the linkages he makes between poverty and health, and between the state of public health in Britain and colonial India in the corresponding years, themes ignored by most scholars. Less concerned with the effect of modern medicine on ‘indigenous’ medicine, he argues for criteria that center on the health of Indian people.

Unlike most researchers and scholars of the subject, the author is well-versed in theory and practice of medicine and in medical history, which lends his book an originality and wider perspective. The book both provokes and educates.

Written in a lucid and accessible language, and with a clear historical approach, the book would be of as much interest to lay persons as to historians and those in the medical profession.

About the book:

“An insightful and eminently readable critical account of the history of medicine and healing in the Indian context. A medical practitioner by training, Varma provides a compelling critique of existing fashionable approaches to the study of medicine in colonial India and refreshingly rejects labels such as “indigenous” and “Western” medicine etc. The application of a materialist perspective for understanding the interaction between medicine, colonialism and capitalism in India allows Varma to provide a realistic and convincing account of the progress and problems of modern medicine on a global scale. This gem of a book is highly recommended for anyone interested in a critical understanding of the enduring contemporary relevance of the history of medicine.”

– Zaheer Baber, Professor of Sociology, University of Toronto


“In this new book, Daya Varma, the justly acclaimed author of Reason and Medicine, the landmark study on the art and science of healing since antiquity, challenges the traditional and postmodern critics of colonial – that is, modern – medicine. Building on Karl Marx’s insights that colonialism had both destructive and regenerative aspects, Varma as a leading historian of medicine provides a positive but critical look at the legacy of British colonialism in the area of medicine and public health. Drawing on a vast literature across disciplines, he effectively demolishes the case of the critics. Varma takes a holistic view of medicine, embedding its study in society, economy and polity, in particular the poverty dimension. There is a lot to learn from this new authoritative study on colonialism and medicine in India.”
– Baldev Raj Nayar, Professor Emeritus, Political Science, McGill University, Montreal

About the author:

Daya Ram Varma, MD, PhD (1929-2015) was Professor Emeritus, Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, McGill University, Montreal. He studied at the King George Medical College, Lucknow. He is author of ‘Reason and Medicine: art and science of healing from antiquity to modern times’ (2013).


Acknowledgements – Time Line – Preface
Chapters: 1.  Introduction, 2. The Domain of Medicine, 3.  Pre-Colonial Medicine, 4.  Poverty in Pre-Colonial, Colonial and Post-Colonial India, 5.  Poverty, Healthcare and Medicine in Britain, 6.  Colonial Climatology and Anthropology, 7.  Epidemics, Infectious Diseases and the Origins of Public Health, 8. Medical Education and Health Services in Colonial India. 9. Post-colonial Medicine and Healthcare, 10. Historiography, 11. Conclusions

216 (xx, 196) pages
Includes bibliographies and references.

Hardcase. demy octavo 8.5 x 5.5 in.
ISBN  978-93-83968-06-0

Subject coverage: History, Medicine, Colonialism, India, British India

Available at major bookstores and with our main distributors: IPD Alternatives 35A/1 Shahpur Jatt, New Delhi 110049 Tel. 011-26491448/26492040 e-mail

To buy directly from Three Essays:

Top - Home