Letters on August 7 Issue

Letters on August 7 Issue
A brilliant exposition of the neglect of the Indian manufacturing sector

Biswajit Dhar and KS Chalapati Rao's ‘India’s Economic Dependence on China’ (24 July 2020) is not only timely but a brilliant, evidence-based exposition of the neglect of the Indian manufacturing sector over a decade and a half. It is common knowledge that Made/Make in India policies have had little operational relevance on the ground. But Dhar and Rao's piece, very substantively and through sectoral evidence, has put paid to such empty sloganeering. Apart from indicating the scale and level of dependence in two most important sectors (electronics and pharmaceuticals), where the figures are mind-boggling, the authors also explicitly discuss the politics of this dependence in terms of the  route through which this unequal trade between the two countries is executed. Congratulations to the authors and thank you, The India Forum.  

Padmini Swaminathan, Chennai
Opening up without precautions

The study of Professors Biswajit Dhar and KS Chalapati Rao is very interesting. One can only agree with their conclusion, taken from Keynes. 

The authors mention sectors of the Indian economy which were beginning to flourish in the 1990s, which became victims of the careless opening up to the world market. An overview of all these sectors where India had development potential would have been welcome. 

It would have been good to explain why Indian manufacturers preferred to source from the Chinese market for basic products. If the attraction of profit was a reason for the relocation of certain activities to China, one wonders why authorities did not regulate this? 

Finally: what led the Indian authorities in the 1990s to accelerate the opening up to the world market without precaution? Of course, the licensing system had to disappear, but shouldn't they have taken into account the realities of the Indian economy, in particular its external dependence, when opening up to the outside world? 

In hindsight, one wonders if the economic choices made by India from 1990 onwards are not similar to the choices made in its external relations with China, during the same period?

Sougoumar Mayoura, former lecturer at the University of French Polynesia
A Misstatement and an Omission

I applaud Pratik Chakrabarti ("Covid-19 and the Spectres of Colonialism", 10 July 2020) for drawing our attention to the continuities between colonial and contemporary responses to epidemic disease and the continuities of prejudice and discrimination that they exhibit. I write however to correct one misstatement and remedy one omission in the article.

Chakrabarti writes: “These vaccinations were not designed to introduce any immunity against plague among the population but were carried out as ‘trials’ for these vaccines.”

This misunderstands the testing process. The prophylactic efficacy of any substance (such as Dr. Haffkine’s plague serum) is first tested in trials. If it is efficacious, it becomes a ‘vaccine’ that may then induce immunity in anyone who receives. Obviously the “trial” then or now is not intended to produce immunity.

The omission in the article is that it was successful subaltern resistance that forced the colonial medical establishment to retreat from its initially draconian policy of “plague control”.

The government of Bombay retreated because it was threatened by a mass emigration of the “Halalkhors”, the staff of the sanitation department. Their departure it realized, would make the city uninhabitable. The dictatorial Plague Committee was abolished and community leaders and the elected council were approached to support control measures.

(This letter draws from Sumit Guha. 'India in the Pandemic Age'. Indian Economic Review. Forthcoming Special Issue, 2020.)

Sumit Guha, Professor of History, University of Texas, Austin
A Response to Sumit Guha

I am happy that Professor Sumit Guha has read my article published in The India Forum and has commented on it. I have read and reflected upon his comments carefully and I need to disagree with both the points he has made.

Regarding my supposed “misstatement,” I must clarify that I do not “misunderstand” the testing process for vaccines. From my experience of working extensively on the history of medical research and more specifically on vaccine research, I can state with clarity that in historic cases for most vaccinations, it was often impossible to draw any lines between trials, efficacy and the vaccinations conducted for immunity, i.e., to know when exactly a vaccine became ‘efficacious’ enough to be known as a ‘vaccine’ and then to be used to induce immunity. In several instances mass vaccinations were conducted for prophylactic purposes on people even when they were at their ‘trial’ stages. 

For the brevity of space I cannot make a detailed statement on that. I have written in detail about the trails, experiments and mass vaccination with the rabies vaccine in India conducted for over thirty years, which will clarify this. Throughout that period colonial bacteriologists used the same vaccines to establish their efficacy and safety and conduct mass vaccinations to induce immunity simultaneously. Throughout these processes these ‘substance[s]’ were also regarded as ‘vaccines’: as detailed in my ‘“Living versus Dead”: The Pasteurian Paradigm and Imperial Vaccine Research’. (Bulletin of the History of Medicine. 2010. 84 (3): 387–423.)

Therefore, the process of ‘first’ being tested on trials and ‘then’ being conducted as vaccination for immunity that Professsor Guha refers to was in reality a very indefinite one. An analysis of historical vaccine research helps to identify the complexity involved. The vaccinations conducted in Bombay immediately after the outbreak of plague that I refer to in my piece were slightly different, as they were almost entirely for the purposes of trials, in which six competing vaccines were used simultaneously over a relatively short period of time. The process was undertaken by an Indian doctor, Dr Nusservanji H. Choksy, under the aegis of the colonial government. I have written about this trial in detail in my book Bacteriology in British India, referred to in my piece.

On the “omission” about resistance, I appreciate Professor Guha for bringing that up. I did not mention anything about the withdrawal of the plague measures as my point in this piece was about the modes of its applications and the concomitant violation of human rights. I am sure he will appreciate that in a piece such as this, it is not possible to refer to all the points of such a complex history. He would also note that, for the same brevity of space, I did not say anything on the subsequent infamous debacle of the Mulkowal vaccination with the plague vaccine, which again is detailed in my book mentioned above.

Pratik Chakrabarti
Perpetuating colonial practices

I have read with much interest the article by Pratik Chakrabarti on Covid-19 and cannot but wholeheartedly agree with the conclusion that we are unwittingly(?) perpetuating the colonial prescription and practices .

CNS Rao, Bengaluru
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