As the news spread that more women died from breast and cervical cancer in India than anywhere else in the world in the early 21st century, global public health planners accelerated efforts to prevent, screen, and treat these reproductive cancers in low-income Indian communities.
Cancer and the Kali Yuga reveals that the women who are the targets of these interventions in Tamil Nadu, South India, have their own views on cancer causality, late diagnosis, and challenges to accessing treatment that differ from the public health discourse. Contrary to public health campaigns that link reproductive cancer risk to individual choices associated with sexual and reproductive practices, diet, and exercise, lower-income Tamil women attribute their risk of cancer to economic, environmental, and social factors beyond their control, which render poor women’s bodies vulnerable to these cancers. While doctors berate them for being irresponsible and coming to the hospital too late, or for irrational fears and harmful superstitious beliefs, women cancer patients say their socioeconomic position constrains their search for cancer treatment and respectful care.
Cecilia Van Hollen’s critical feminist ethnography centers and amplifies the voices of Dalit Tamil women who situate cancer within the nexus of their class, caste, and gender positions. Dalit women’s narratives about their experiences with cancer present a powerful and poignant critique of the sociocultural and political-economic conditions that marginalize them and jeopardize their health and well-being in 21st-century India.
This book will be valuable to scholars of Anthropology, Sociology, Gender Studies, and Dalit Studies. It will also interest scholars, policy-makers and practitioners of Global and Public Health.
Cecilia Coale Van Hollen is a professor in the Asian Studies Program of the Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.
List of Abbreviations
Note on Time of Writing and Transliteration
1. History and Hospitals
2. Poverty and Chemicals
3. Women and Work
4. Screening and Morality
5. Disclosure and Care
6. Biomedicine and Bodies
7. Sorcery and Religion