Tropical Blood: Race and Tropical Medicine in Interwar India
With Projit B. Mukharji (University of Pennsylvania)
The rise of pharmacogenomics in the last decade or so has reopened the debate about biological difference and its role in medicine. India has emerged as a key site for many of these investigations through the work of the massive, federally-funded research consortium called the Indian Genome Variation Initiative. This resurgence of racialized paradigms in medical thinking in India forces us to look anew into the history of race and medicine in twentieth century India. Once contextualized, today’s resurgence of race seems much less sudden or unexpected. The Interwar period, which was also when some of the foundational work on classical genetics was done, witnessed a new intensity and vitality in colonial raciology. Drawing upon new advances in the physiology of blood, such as the development of blood groups, this new raciology was inscribed much deeper in the bodies of colonial subjects. No longer satisfied with the measurements of skulls and noses on the surfaces of colonized bodies, the new raciology developed a range of new laboratory techniques to detect, measure and operationalize race. What was most remarkable about this new raciology was also that Indian scientists undertook much of it. Yet most of the extant scholarship on race science in India has remained focussed either on 19th century anthropometry or on amateur eugenics societies of the 20th century. The historiography of Tropical Medicine, pari passu, has remained largely devoted to the founding fathers, viz. Patrick Manson and Ronald Ross, and eschewed the developments of the Interwar period. In this paper, I will address both these gaps in the historiography. By interrogating the ways in which blood and race were braided together, I will show how Interwar developments in Tropical Medicine in British India were refracted through multiple figures of ‘tropical blood’.