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Saturday, 1 October 2016

Begotten of Corruption? Bioarchaeology and “othering ”of leprosy in South Asia

Gwen Robbins Schug

Associate professor of anthropology, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC, USA

Leprosy is strongly stigmatized in South Asia, being regarded as a manifestation of extreme levels of spiritual pollu-tion going back through one or more incarnations of the self. Stigma has significant social consequences, including sur-veillance, exclusion, discipline, control, and punishment; biologically speaking, internalized stigma also compounds the disfigurement and disability resulting from this disease. Stigma results from an othering process whereby difference is recognized, meaning is constituted, and eventually, sufferers may be negatively signified and marked for exclusion. This paper traces the history of leprosys stigmatization in South Asia, using archaeology and an exegesis of  Vedic texts to ex-amine the meaning of this disease from its apparent zero-point — when it first appears but before it was differentiated and signified — in the mature Indus Age. Results suggest that early in the second millennium BCE, leprosy was perceived as treatable and efforts were apparently made to mitigate its impact on the journey to the after world. Ignominy to the point of exclusion does not emerge until the first millennium BCE. This paper uses archaeology to create an effective history of stigma for leprosy, destabilizing what is true about this disease and its sufferers in South Asia today.

See also :
The Center Cannot Hold: A Bioarchaeological Perspective on Environmental Crisis in the Second Millennium BCE , South Asia