Daktari: Histories of Crime and Medicine | Department of History

Daktari: Histories of Crime and Medicine

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The poster is an advertisement of a popular American TV series titled “Daktari” (doctor in Swahili), which ran between 1966 and 1969, and was shot mostly in California. The protagonist was an American doctor, who had come to reside with his family in a forest somewhere in Africa to initiate “affection training” of humans for the wild life. Today, daktari as work/designation enjoys a wide currency in the context of global health. Prof. Robert C. Davidson, an M.D at University of California, prefers to call himself “Daktari Bob” in his accounts on the adventures in the wilds of Africa, while training the native medical volunteers as part of humanitarian aid. Till recently, in South Asia, daktari/ doctory was synonymous with the official medical practice representing “allopathy”, and continues to this day to dominate both private and public health care. Daktari personifies imperial pasts in so far as it pre-supposes both physic and surgical expertise. I have been interested in finding out how this idealized association between daktari and humanitarian pre-disposition came to be materialized in British India. Hence, my entry point to British imperial medical history in India is the imperial makings of medicine as service. How was the relationship between medicine and service historically shaped between the reforms of imperial services after the Regulating Act of 1773, and the close of the nineteenth century, when seva became a catchword for personifying embodied pre-disposition to serve in the capacity of a care giver? 
In the last few years, I have been attracted towards darker themes around daktari in its career as laboratory based medicine--medical/biological crimes in twentieth century India.