Accepted paper:

Interrupted reproduction and 'inauspiciousness': faith healing and the challenge to notions of reproductive health in NW India


Maya Unnithan (University of Sussex)

Paper short abstract:

Hindu notions of inauspiciousness characterise childlessness in Rajasthan. The paper suggests that for infertile women ‘reproductive health’ is a quest to gain auspiciousness, and healers have a greater hold over concepts of reproductive well-being.

Paper long abstract:

Hindu notions of pollution and inauspiciousness characterise the condition of sterility (banjhpan) and the bodies and selves of childless women in Rajasthan. Taken together with culturally and historically specific understandings of the female body, these notions spawn complex, plural trajectories of health-seeking, especially among poorer women (more prone to a high prevalence of reproductive tract infections). Biomedical cures are sought in combination with the intervention of faith healers, although almost always, the latter are considered more efficacious in the sense of 'having more force (hold/pakad)'. In the paper I argue that it is healers who have a greater hold over indigenous notions of reproductive well-being despite their marked absence, as that of infertility itself, from the history of an Indian modernity (focused on fertility and its rational management; Ram 2013). Given their ontological and ritual liminality, for infertile women, 'reproductive health' becomes a quest to gain auspiciousness rather than to be free from reproductive infections per se.

panel P62
Religious life and medical traditions