Lunatic Asylums in Colonial Bombay: Shackled Bodies, Unchained Minds (Mental Health in Historical Perspective) #traveldeals


This book traces the historical roots of the problems in India’s mental health care system. It accounts for indigenous experiences of the lunatic asylum in the Bombay Presidency (1793-1921). The book argues that the colonial lunatic asylum failed to assimilate into Indian society and therefore remained a failed colonial-medical enterprise. It begins by assessing the implications of lunatic asylums on indigenous knowledge and healing traditions. It then examines the lunatic asylum as a ‘middle-ground’, and the European superintendents’ ‘common-sense’ treatment of Indian insanity. Furthermore, it analyses the soundscapes of Bombay’s asylums, and the extent to which public perceptions influenced their use. Lunatic asylums left a legacy of historical trauma for the indigenous community because of their coercive and custodial character. This book aims to disrupt that legacy of trauma and to enable new narratives in mental health treatment in India.

“Original, courageous and evocative, Sarah Pinto’s history of colonial asylums is a powerful work. Attending to the experiences of patients and their families, the soundscapes and spaces of the asylum, Pinto goes beyond existing understandings to show us the persistence, the failures and the consequences of a painful past. The book is a rich addition to the histories of colonial India and to health, and introduces a historian with a skillful sensitivity to people and difficult predicaments in the past and present.” (Charlotte Macdonald, Professor of History, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand)

“In this pioneering study of asylums in the Bombay Presidency Sarah Pinto argues that the colonial imposition of asylums quickly became subverted. Attentive to the everyday workings of the asylums and the views of them by the communities in which they operated, this study suggests how understanding the history of the treatment of the mentally ill is vital to reconceptualising their treatment today.” (Barbara Brookes, Professor of History, University of Otago, New Zealand)

“Sarah Pinto’s book is one of the first attempts to study the social history of lunatic asylums in the Bombay Presidency, and she approaches her study through an analysis of Indigenous responses to these colonial institutions. … the book will prove to be a fascinating read for anyone interested in the history of colonial health and healthcare. It is based on a vast body of primary sources available in India and the United Kingdom.” (Mrunmayee Satam, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, Vol. 20 (3), 2019)
About the Author
Sarah Ann Pinto completed her PhD in History from Victoria University of Wellington in 2017. Her awards include the ‘Bowen Prize for the Best Student in History, 2017′, and the ‘Fr Henry Heras Prize, 2008’. Her passion for history and healing motivates her research. Through her work, she intends to enable new narratives in mental health treatment.

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