Accepted paper:

Locating the vector: malaria research in colonial Assam Valley Tea plantations, 1900-1930


Sudip Saha (North-Eastern Hill University)

Paper short abstract:

The present paper makes an attempt to explore the incentives for malaria research in the tea plantations of colonial Assam Valley by analysing the factor of ‘locality’ i.e. the influence of local ecology and the role of tropical aggregation of labour.

Paper long abstract:

The concept of epidemiology has gained wide acceptance in the historical understanding of colonial development today. To locate the source of epidemics since the discovery of Ronald Ross's mosquito vector as malaria parasite, the focus of attention is turned to major sites of colonial economy throughout the world. The factor of 'locality', therefore, emerged as an important field of enquiry in an attempt to identify the specific vector in malaria. Considering the transition in the understanding of tropical diseases, this paper makes an attempt to explore the incentives for malaria research in the tea plantations of Assam Valley. Several tea estates were set up in the Valley became the places of intense malaria research in the early twentieth century as the infectivity of malaria was mostly prevalent among the immigrant labourers of the gardens. Contributions came both from the government and private entrepreneurships in malaria research which was intended to reduce mortality rates of the labourers. Yet, the region itself did not witness any sustained implementation of anti-malarial policies in terms of research and economic activity and malaria continued to kill the labouring population of the Valley gardens. By analysing the factor of 'locality' in malaria research, the present paper would make an attempt to indentify the influence of local ecology i.e. mosquito vector on malarial fever on the one hand and the role of 'tropical aggregation of labour' in the causation of malaria in the tea plantations of Assam Valley on the other.

panel P44
Society, medicine and history: new perspectives