1st Edition

The Dai and the Indigenous Notes on the Appearance and Disappearance of a Figure in the Therapeutics of a Nation

By Asha Achuthan Copyright 2025
    352 Pages
    by Routledge

    This is a book about the dai, or traditional birth practitioner, and her place in the emerging therapeutic domain in colonial and contemporary India. 

    The book employs a caste-informed feminist reading of the colonial archive against the grain, and explores papers by Englishwomen physicians, texts of indigenous medicine and practitioner accounts, administrative documents, public commentaries and legislative assembly debates from the 19th and early 20th centuries. It also examines contemporary healthcare policy discourse. Using these methodologies, the author traces the production of the dai as an unsanitary, unskilled indigenous figure in colonial and nationalist accounts. The book goes on to examine the workings of gender and caste in the setting up of this figure, at first for containment, and then for removal from institutionalized healthcare – an exercise that is more or less completed in the present. The author argues that this exercise is part of the refashioning of the indigenous, and of indigenous medicine, throughout this period, into a highly codified domain that centres caste privilege and is supported in global capital networks. In such a refashioning, the dai figure is rendered remote not only from the centre of the healthcare apparatus but also from the centre of the contemporary nation. This genealogical tracing of indigenous medicine in Indian contexts, rather than separate histories, is also useful to understand better what is termed the healthcare assemblage today, and this book provides a ground on which this can be done.



    Chapter 1

    Introduction: the dai and the terrain of indigenous practice


    Chapter 2

    Historiographies of science and medicine in India


    Chapter 3

    Revisiting the clinical encounter I: sites and meanings of an emerging indigenous therapeutics


    Chapter 4

    Revisiting the clinical encounter II: the emergence of the dai in the management of populations


    Chapter 5

    The nation and its women: re-examining an old preoccupation


    Chapter 6

    Indigenous therapeutics in the present, the recalibration of the expert domain, and the place of the dai




    Asha Achuthan is Assistant Professor at the Advanced Centre for Women's Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bombay, India.