Skeleton Merchants and a History of Bone Trade in South Asia (1858-1985)
I completed my bachelor's (2018) and master's degree (2020) in History from Presidency University, Kolkata. Currently, I am a doctoral student at OCHSMT, University of Oxford, and am funded by the Wellcome Trust. Though my primary field of interest is art history, my interests shifted during the master's program to history of medicine and its situation within the wider socio-ethical and economic ambit.
My dissertation argues that the modern Western Scientific advancement was largely predicated on the supply of South Asian bones from India to Britain during the legal creation of the British Raj in 1858. Since my research largely concerns human remains with its overarching ethical and economic concerns, I shall primarily adopt an ethnographical approach, relying mainly on oral histories embedded in the cremation ghats, in addition to consulting medical, official and archival records. In doing so, I shall attempt to show how the wide South Asian trading network impacts forensic and medical studies and shapes the broader understanding of the 'Red Market', which I argue has played a pivotal role in the perpetuation of imperial capitalism right from the inception of the British Raj. Focusing primarily on the local perceptions of the dead, and the surrounding inter and intra-caste polemics on dissection, my dissertation essentially seeks to bridge the long-standing gap between the trade economy and the overarching historical debates predominantly concerning bio-ethics and public health, while interacting with law, labour, society and medicine throughout the mid-nineteenth to the late-twentieth centuries—the era of decolonization.
Supervisor: Professor Mark Harrison