II National Seminar

The Enigma of Health, Maladies and the Politics of Healing

25-26 March 2011

The second National Seminar was inaugurated on 25 March 2011 in the pleasant ambience of Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar. Dr. Sudhir K Jain, Director of IIT Gandhinagar chaired the inaugural session and the keynote address was given by Professor Shiv Visvanathan, the noted sociologist. Dr. Koshy Tharakan, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Gandhinagar, local coordinator delivered the welcome address. Professor Prafulla C Kar, Director of the Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences introduced the seminar theme to the participants. In his address, Professor Kar drew the attention of the participants and those in attendance to the role of the industrialist Balvant Parekh of Pidilite Industries in bringing forth as academic disciplines general semantics and human sciences.  He said how the humanities and social sciences are perceived to have no market value of materially profitable nature. He expressed the need for the impetus to make social sciences attractive to the students and academics, and to ensure a strong and solid presence of these disciplines in the curricula. Professor Kar explained about the different paradigms of looking at “health” by likening it to a hermeneutical problem thereby stating that health is not a medical problem, but a philosophical problem. Citing Gadamer’s notion of health, he stated that disease or illness should be looked as a totality of body, mind and soul. Therefore, there are a series of questions regarding the enigmatic character of “health”. The wholeness and holistic nature of human being should be understood during treatment. Stressing the importance of General Semantics in the health paradigm, he opined that effective communication is mandatory for the health professionals and the consumers in order to understand each other and the problem at hand.  

Prof. Kar, Prof. Jain and Shiv Visvanathan during inauguration

Professor Sudhir K Jain shared the good news that the senate of IIT Gandhinagar has decided to focus on and include the learning of social science subjects compulsory for the budding engineering students in the institute to give them a sound base for their humanistic approach in their lives. He hoped that the seminar would bring a positive impact on the academic environment of the IIT Gandhinagar community, and the society at large. He also expressed the institute’s readiness to collaborate with the Centre in conducting certain academic activities in future too. 

In his keynote address titled “The Tacit Constitution” Professor Shiv Visvanathan expounded the need for understanding the role of social science disciplines in determining the social conduct historically. Complementing the preceding speakers, he stated that a man may take up any type of profession, but he is always to be part of the society, and as such, understanding of the society and the social sciences is a necessary part of our lives. If democracy is to be saved, then the social sciences only can do justice to the task. Technology is only an amplifier of the social happenings.  In connection with the theme of the seminar, he analyzed Gadamer’s philosophy of health and healing in correlation with Alfred Korzybski’s Science and Sanity. Discussing these two thinkers, he stressed on the concept of the totality of health. The social constitution of health should be viewed through hermeneutics and epistemology which meet in a political vacuum. The present scenario of narrow overspecialization of healthcare profession is not doing any good to the society. He added that there is connectedness of every aspect of health and nothing should be seen in isolation.

A section of  the audience

 The seminar sailed off smoothly with Professor Suhita Chopra Chaatterjee as chairperson of the first session entitled “Body, Mind and Health: Interpreting the Enigmatic.” Sangeeta Menon put forward a glimpse of the sub-conscious mind and the conscious interaction of the self with the nature outside, and corresponding changes to the perception of the “self” in the build up to feeling healthy. She gave a subject-object dichotomy of the functioning of the human mind, but also explained about situations where this distinction and causal relationship is not easily explicable. Abey Koshy negated the present trend of looking at “health” as the removal of diseases. With insights from Nietzsche’s idea of great health, he tried to develop a different notion of health as excess of life. He also drew attention to the need for a positive assemblage of body-nutrition compound by discarding the control of the human bodies with nihilistic moralities and juridical-medical practices. The next paper by Mary Bachaspatimayum gave an insight into Gadamer’s illustration of the “Enigmatic Character of Health.” She explained the need to emphasize the maintenance of equilibrium and harmony by taking into consideration the environment to which a patient belongs, while undergoing the health regeneration treatment. The need to look into the rights of the patients was also brought into attention. With T V Madhu’s insight of the paradox of modern medicine wherein the material aspect of human body is associated with the treatment of the sick the session was open for discussion. After the discussion the chairperson in her summarizing comment expressed the need to deeply probe the meaning and nuances of health.

Another section of the audience

The second session with the central theme “Health and the Public Sphere: Media and Mediations” had Dr. A K Giri chairing the proceedings. Devvarta Kumar presented an exciting situation of the society wherein the “disease mongering” market forces enhances the vulnerability of the people with health problems, and especially those with psychological problems. Manasvini M Yogi talked about the ethical, legal, social and medical dimensions of “Euthanasia” and emphasizing her argument for a legal acceptance of its practice to give a “dignity” quotient to the terminally ill persons who prefer to die rather than being in the continuous battle of pain and humiliation of being weak and useless. K I Meitie’s paper emphasized the perception of the “state of health” through the different aspects of the social context with the present information available on what being healthy and having a fit body is; the vital role of communication in various forms in providing the information; and in moulding the minds of the people.

 The next session based on the personal experiences of the presenters started with Sujatha V chairing and Alito Siqueira presenting a paper on the ICU psychosis with a real life experience on the thought processes during those times of delirium, and how he overcame the situation by taking it as a transformative occasion of self rather than “forgetting about it,” as most doctors suggest. Next presenter Reshma Vallipaan put an interesting facet of schizophrenia in which the patient is treated and made to feel like a child, but is expected to recover like an adult. The session concluded with a paper of Bhargavi V Davar presented in absentia. The paper focused on the clubbing of people with so called “mental illness” with narrow definitions adopted in different legal codes in the course of India ’s history. It was observed that creativity surfaces during such phases of human life and that art and medicine complement each other which could be seen in the sketches of Alito and Reshma’s poems on death.

 The second day of the seminar started with Mathai  B Fenn chairing the session and Dr. Hasmukh C. Shah speaking on the benefits of good diet and the three different principles of naturopathy, namely: Milieu Inteme, Vis Medicatrix Naturae, and Non Nacre. He elaborated on the importance of regulating our lives on a normal and natural basis. Rinzi Lama followed the presentation with an insight into the folk healing practices among the Nepali community in Darjeeling . She tried to put the remedial practices of illness/diseases adopted in a given society in relation to the specific culture and customs. Professor Suhita Chopra Chaatterjee presented an analysis of the alternative health movement in Modern India with special emphasis on the one led by Baba Ramdev. Her paper also dealt with the stages and factors of development of ayurveda in India and abroad.

Enjoying Gujarati Thali

 In the next session chaired by Alito Siqueira, Sreekumar N presented a paper on the enigmatic nature of health with insights from Gadamer and Vaghbata within a phenomenological perspective. The paper showed the fundamental dichotomies in the modern healthcare i.e. health – illness and normal – abnormal, and also examined the ayurvedic resolution of the enigmatic nature of health. Mathai Baker Fenn put into perspective the dialectic nature of western medicine, and the new diseases on the scene due to socio-behavioural factors, rather than pathogenic ones. Corresponding to time-binding aspect as explained by Alfred Korzybski, he attempted to make sense of health and life related monolithic dichotomies prevalent in contemporary culture. The paper co-authored by Poonam Bishnoi and Sabyasachi Dasgupta on the selling of the image of a perfect body substantiated with an analysis of Femina magazine in which the various discourses concerning the construction of a healthy, beautiful and perfect body are generated to influence people discussed the market potential of communication. Angshuman Phukan’s paper examined the different perspectives of the various health prescriptions and the communication index in which a number of drugs are sold to the people. He stressed on the paradoxical situation in which a person seeking for a healthy lifestyle and body is facing with many seemingly good drugs in the market, and their unexpected effects including negative ones.

Shivani Jha’s paper delved into the reactions of different individuals to their position and image in the social process. She took on the comparative analysis of the main characters of three fictional novels from different countries and their reactions to the problems they faced in their particular societies. Young research scholar Elwin Susan John took the audience along with her paper on the study of health tourism and the different writings and advertisements for this purpose. Her paper attempted to enquire the magnified scenario made to lure the potential tourists. The chair of the session Pia Theilmann summed up the session with a few remarks on different situations every health seeker is facing in this materially controlled and determined society.

 Last session of the seminar chaired by Basudev Guha had presentations by Ananta Kumar Giri and Lavanya Seshasayee. Dr. Giri discussed the concept of the dichotomy of health and non-health (which does not necessarily mean illness). He pondered on the metapathological dimension of human suffering. The idea of the art of healing versus the art of killing was put forth as an open-ended concept in healthcare. Later Lavanya gave a feminist standpoint on the cognitive behaviour therapy treatment of the problems of mental distress among the Indian women, with firsthand experiences of herself and her clients.

 During the valedictory session, Bini B S, Academic Fellow of Balvant Parekh Centre summed up the proceedings and gave an insight into the idea of sanity of humanity as explained by Alfred Korzybski in his books Manhood of Humanity and Science and Sanity. The chair of the session, Professor Prafulla C Kar concluded the seminar with his keen observations on the earlier proceedings, and the healthiness concept of the society as philosophized by Gadamer. He extended invitations to all for participation in forthcoming courses and workshops, to avail of the rich collection of books of the Balvant Parekh Centre and Forum on Contemporary Theory, Baroda . With the vote of thanks proposed by Jason the thought provoking seminar came to an end leaving us with several questions which need to be addressed.

Overall, the participants had an intellectually stimulating experience and interaction during the two-day seminar. Besides, the delegates of the seminar could get a glimpse of the colorful and rich Gujarati culture and a taste of traditional cuisine arranged by the organizers.

Cultural program during dinner

 K.I. Meitei