Diseased Plantations: Toward a Political Economy of Health in Assam

Friday, January 8, 2016: 2:30 PM
Room 313/314 (Hilton Atlanta)
Arnab Dey, Binghamton University (State University of New York)
While malaria, cholera and black fever remained the predominant cause of worker fatality in the Assam tea gardens in eastern India throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century, my paper repositions our understanding of health and illness beyond medical theories of bodily disorder. It revisits the material relations of production in these estates—conditions of hygiene, contamination, faulty statistics, variable labor laws, race typologies of labor acclimatization and suitability, and regimes of fitness—to suggest that these intersecting factors both caused and regulated real and notional instances of disease and sickness among plantation labor in Assam. This paper thus contends that mortality and morbidity in the Assam plantations cannot be adequately historicized by the rubrics of public health, contagion or the miasmatic or germ theories of disease alone.