The book has the unique feature of describing the hygienic practices of the people all over India from Kashmir to Kanyakumarica and from the Punjab to Manipur, based on the data collected by the Anthropological Survey of India in 1959-60, in connection with the material cultural traits survey, on the eve of Government of India's efforts to improve the hygienic conditions, supplimented by the autors (see the text) own data from different states of India. The details of bathing customs along with the use of different ingredients of rubbing the body and hair, washing of clothes and bed-linen, brushing of teeth and mouth, procuring and preserving the drinking water, spitting and chewing habits, sweeping and cleaning of the house, disposal of garbage, toilet practices, ventilation and keeping the village clean are put together in a regional and geographical context. Climate factors such as avoidance of bath in extremely cold climate, and in want of water sources, where people had to scoope water gives a general pattern of hygienic practices.
Cultural variation in terms of the compulsion of Brahmans to take a morning bath before puja even in the cold climate, the Muslims washing face and hands only before saying the prayer, evening bath after the day's work among the peasants, avoidance of bath among some forest dwelling tribes before collecting honey and so an, and socio-economic dimensions of people's hygienic practices are brought out in relief. Brushing the teeth and washing the right hand before taking meals are among the universal features of Indian traditions. The material will be found specially useful to health planners of the country apart from Biological Anthropologists.
Mrs. Sima Mukherjee has been a teacher in different parts of India, being a Principal in Kolkata and Tirupati. She was a well known reciter of Bengali poems in the All India Radio, had a training in Rabindra Sangeet, and was a pioneer in the Bra tacha ri movement in pre-independence India. She has taken a special training in Nutrition and diet from the North East Hill University in Shillong. She has travelled in various parts of India along with her husband Professor D. P. Mukherjee and developed an interest in observing health and hygienic practices of the people.
She has published a number of papers in anthropological topics, and a few short stories for young children. She has continued her research in bathing customs and practices in different parts of India since early 1970's and developed an insight into the health and biological effects of different practices of bathing, it is in this connection that the then Director General of the Anthropological Survey of India had invited her to take up the present work.
I have presented in this volume an outline of the traditional hygienic practices in rural India as a dimension of the cultural profile of the people of India. It has been drawn up mainly from the available data regarding hygienic practices from different parts of India which were collected by a team of 18 investigators of the Anthropological Survey of India during 1959-60, as a part of the material (culture) trait survey conducted by them at that time. That was the time when the first ever organised programme of improving the sanitary conditions of villages had just began to be introduced, under the Community Development Project of the Government of India. Therefore, it would be reasonable to assume that this pedestrian comparison of qualitative data have brought out the age-old hygienic practices among the rural people of India, which have survived, and their regional, climatic, ethnic and socio-economic diversities indicative of cultural dines. The observations presented here may also have some indirect bearing on rural public health programmes that may be undertaken, because a scientific programme for health welfare must ideally be based on the people's cultural traditions and health awareness reflected in their traditional practices and local adaptations.
Despite certain inherent limitations of this study, like the heterogeneity of the content and quality of the data collected by several investigators and variable field conditions encountered by them, and the compulsion of selecting only a small sample of villages for the field investigation, the theoretical advantage of the study appears to far outweigh those limitations. The data have the unique importance of having been collected together within a period of one year from at least one village in each district of India, as constituted at the time of the field investigation, under a common framework developed under the leadership of Professor N.K. Bose (Appendices of 'Peasant Life of India' by Bose, 1961). For some items, however, it has been possible to supplement the Survey data with findings of my own investigation into the bathing customs and practices of people from different parts of India (Mukherjee and Mukherjee, 1977) and by some information recorded in the mimeographed ICSSR project report (1974) on the trend of studies on 'Health, Sanitation and Therapeutic Practices of the Tribes of India' submitted by my husband, Professor D.P. Mukherjee Reference to those additional sources have not only been useful in adding a few pieces of information, but have also been found helpful in assessing the validity and continuity of some practices, mentioned in the data provided by the Survey. Till at least two decades later rural hygienic practices in India might have yet remained largely tradition-bound.
I have tried to build up a coherent and meaningful picture of the hygiene and sanitary conditions of the villages spread over the entire country, trying to bridge some gaps and lack of uniformity in the data, while, at the same time, keeping to the details as they were recorded by the field investigators truthfully to the extent possible. I have considered such a documentation to be of objective scientific importance, even though it might, in some instances, appear to be rather monotonous. The tests have been supplemented by tables to break the monotony and help readers to grasp easily the essence of comparative analyses at a glance. If some items should appear to have been more elaborately dealt with than others, it should generally be attributed to the nature of the available data. However, I may have given a relatively greater attention to bathing customs and practices, which I think is central to personal hygiene in some ways. An additional reason for this bias may be due to my continued interest for some time in studying the importance and manner of bathing in different communities in India. 1 had first noticed a diversity in bathing habits and attitudes in Indian families living in London during the mid-1960's, and subsequently, tried to collect systematic information in Delhi, Tirupati and Shillong before we have, again, come to stay in Calcutta in the middle of the decade of 1970's.
The scope and context of the study
This is an account of the traditional hygienic practices among the rural people of India. Hygienic practices, which refer to habits and customs related to health, obviously depend on the environment and cultural traditions of the people. The present analysis is, therefore, comparative and considers regional, climatic, ethnic and socio-economic diversities, wherever possible.
The word 'Hygiene' is derived from 'Hygea', the Greek mythological goodess of health. The measures of health preservation considered here are those necessary for preventing illness caused by external agencies. They are primarily concerned with keeping oneself and one's environment clean and free from infections and polluting agents.
Source of information
The focus of the present study is on the traditional customs and practices prevailing in rural India through the ages rather than on the portrayal of the contemporary public health conditions. This is because the major source of information for the study is the set of data acquired by the Anthropological Survey of India during 1959-60, as a part of the All India Material Trait Survey. These data have been referred to as the 'Survey data' in the following discussion.
While over three decades have elapsed since the collection of these data, they were collected at a time when the first ever organised programme of improving the sanitary conditions was being introduced in the villages all over the country. This comparative account of these data brings out the general traditional pattern of hygienic practices among the rural people of India and regional, ethnic and socio-economic diversities suggestive of cultural dines. It has also been possible to examine to some extent how far the hygienic practices under study were directly related to ecological conditions. The data presented here may also have some indirect bearing on the public health programmes in future, because a scientific programme for health welfare must essentially be based on the people's cultural traditions and adaptive capabilities. It should consider the levels of health awareness in the people as reflected in the traditional practices.
A unique importance of the survey data is that they were collected together within a period of one year from at least one village of each district of India (as constituted at the time of data-collection) by a team of 18 anthropological investigators under a common framework developed by Professor Nirmal Kumar Bose (Appendixes of 'Peasant life of India', Bose 1961). This should enable one to obtain a comprehensive and comparative picture of the traditional hygienic practices.
The theoretical advantage of the data far outweighs their limitations due to (1) non-availability of particular items of information from a few districts (These gaps in information are listed in the Appendix); (2) lack of uniformity in details, and (3) heterogenity in the quality of data, perhaps inherent in a large survey conducted by several investigators and variable field conditions encountered by them. Furthermore, the hygienic practices were only a minor item in the schedule for data collection in the culture zone survey.
As this study aims at locating trends of variation, the gaps in information are not insurmountable in practice. For some topics, however, the survey data have been supplemented by the findings of my own investigation into the bathing customs and practices of people from different parts of India since 1969 (Mukherjee and Mukherjee 1977, and unpublished materials) and also a mimeographed ICSSR project-report on 'Health, Sanitation and Therapeutic Practices of India' by Professor D.P. Mukherjee in early 1974. These additional sources of data have been helpful in verifying the validity and reliability of the survey data. Apart from adding a few new items of information to them, they have suggested that the hygienic practices in rural India have to a large extent remained tradition-bound till at least about two decades afterwards.
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