chapter  11
18 Pages

Pharmacology, ‘indigenous knowledge’, nationalism *

A few words from the epitaph of subaltern science
WithProjit Bihari Mukharji

The polymorphism of the term ‘indigenous drugs’ in pharmacology clearly reflected the multiplicity of languages and systems of botanical knowledge available in colonial South Asia. The ‘indigenous drugs’ appeared in the nationalist discourse officially in 1894 when owing to the efforts of George Watt and Kanai Lal Dey the Indian National Congress included the extended investigation and use of indigenous drugs in its demands. The selection of elite, learned collaborators as representatives of the indigenous botanical traditions created a context for the progressive marginalization of subaltern botanical cultures. Texts such as Gupto’s raise other questions about the nature of the ‘indigenous’ knowledge that is produced through colonial contact. The most startling example, however, was the ‘Treeak Farooq’, long used by South Indian Hakims and mentioned in several English treatises as an ‘indigenous drug’ and an effective cure for beriberi.