Madness in British India

I’d like to say thanks to the many people who turned out to hear me talk about the Lunatic Asylums of British India on 10th October. The National Library of Scotland will be making the audio recording available soon on its website so please keep an eye out.

There were some interesting questions raised at the end and I’ve had time to do a bit of investigating to give fuller answers:

1. What is cardiazol? Cardiazol convulsion therapy was used in some Indian asylums in the 1930s particularly Ranchi Indian hospital in Bihar. Cardiazol was injected into a patient which induced a convulsion. This was painful, but the colonial doctors deemed that it was successful in treating those with schizophrenia.
Cardiazol itself is also known as pentylenetetrazol (INN), as metrazol, pentetrazol, pentamethylenetetrazol, or PTZ, and is a drug used as a circulatory and respiratory stimulant. High doses lead to convulsions.
This webpage about the history of shock therapy gives more information and puts the treatment into context.

2. Were there any blind, deaf and mute patients in the asylums? Yes, there were. A quick ’search book content’ search on the Medical History of British India website reveals that ‘amentia deaf mute’ was recorded in Tezpur 1877 (’amentia’ meaning ‘dementia’ or ‘mental deficiency’), blind patients were admitted into institutions in Bombay (1897) and Bengal (1880). In Patna (1912-14) it is reported that village simpletons and the deaf and dumb were accused of trivial offences and sent as inasane to the local asylum.

There were also questions about how the asylums were funded and where the staff came from. I’ll be looking into these this week and will post about these issues next week.