Epistemic Questions About Epidemic Causations
Mohan Rao
EPIDEMIC MALARIA AND HUNGER IN COLONIAL PUNJAB: WEAKENED BY WANT by Sheila Zurbrigg Routledge, London and New York, The Social History of Health and Medicine in South Asia Series, 2019, 446 pp., Rs.1495.00
January 2020, volume 44, No 1

‘The hungry rarely write history, and historians are rarely hungry.’
I have known the author of this astonishing book, Professor Sheila Zurbrigg, for a long time. I first read her book Rakku’s Story: Structures of Ill-health and Source of Change in the late seventies, when it came out through an alternative publisher. This book is not available because the publishing house apparently died. It is on the reading list of many courses at the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, where I taught for many years. We use xeroxes. I wish Zurbrigg had been to an exploitative mainstream press: we would still have had the book.

Rakku’s Story looks at the life of a Dalit agricultural labourer and her relationship with India’s health system. It was a devastating, data-based critique of India’s health care system and it opened my eyes to class, caste and gender and how these shape access to health. It also revealed, above all, how political economy explained the health system we actually have.

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