The Newsletter 65 Autumn 2013

Essentialising the body. Locating medical domination and resistance

Neshat Quaiser

Unani refers to the Graeco-Arab system of medicine as it has developed in the Indian subcontinent since the 12th century. Unani responded to the western medical absolutism of the colonial period and the communal machinations of the post-colonial period also by essentialising the body. This is true for Unani’s representation of the human body as for its body of knowledge. This was in part ‘tactical’ in the face of a perceived threat of extermination, domination and denigration by the structures of power; and also to critically foreground the constitutive elements of Unani medicine distinct from other forms of medicine, which acquired specifi c connotations in the given situation. The body became tension ridden. Unani-Muslim, canonical-local, elite-subaltern, colonialism-nationalism-communalism, Ayurveda-Unani-western medicine, are some of the oppositions that formed the constitutive elements. These categories were manipulated in the process of defi ning the human body and the body of Unani knowledge.

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