I am a funded PhD student in History at Lancaster University. I received a first-class undergraduate degree at Lancaster in History (2012-2015), and my MA in Modern History from Durham University (2015-2016). I also teach on the undergraduate module HIST100 From Ancient to the Modern, and next term I am hoping to teach on HIST105: Histories of Violence: How Imperialism made the Modern World. Further to this, I am the postgraduate representative for Graduate Teaching Assistants, maintaining a link between postgraduates, students and staff. I am also the Global History editor, and founding member, of EPOCH postgraduate history magazine.
My research explores the ways in which homosexuality has been constructed as a psychiatric issue in postcolonial India. While many studies focusing on the medicalization of homosexuality look to Europe and America, my research interrogates the ways in which the discourse of medicalization was practiced in India. While it is widely believed that the medicalization of homosexuality is in the past, my research aims to highlight how this is not the case. Through looking at the use of conversion therapy, broadly understood, I look at the role psychiatry has played in perpetuating the narrative that same-sex attraction is a deviation from the norm. Conversion therapy is the use of aversive psychiatric techniques, such as electro-shock therapy, potent medication and other forms of behavioural therapy, to attempt to alter sexual orientation.
The broad aims of the thesis are, (i) to understand the Indian context of medicalization, (ii) map the networks of information and discourses which exist between Indian and Euro-American psychiatry, (iii) understand how and why conversion therapies are used in present day India to treat homosexuals, despite a change in legislation.
In order to achieve these aims, my research focuses on three main source-types: psy-discipline medical journals (predominantly psychiatry and psychology) which focus on curing homosexuality, testimony from patients who underwent these treatments (in the form of magazine articles and blogs) and, lastly, qualitative interview data from psychiatrists who have practiced during the period of medicalization. From these sources I will extrapolate not only medical and political motives for treatment, but also social pressures.
Methodologically, I am creating a micro-historical approach, using the data from the journals and the blogs of LGBTQIA+ people to construct mainstream attitudes, whether medical, legal, social or political, and give the patients a voice in this history. Due to the marginalised nature of these groups, and the way in which law and medicine operate in the postcolonial period, it is important to seek out the experiences of those who suffered from conversion therapies.
Conversion therapy, the medicalization of homosexuality and the social, legal and political aspects of treatment are the main focus of this thesis. At this stage, it is important not to generalise, as the sources I have analysed are predominantly medical, such as the Indian Journal of Psychiatry and the Indian Journal of Clinical Psychology. These publications focus on the curative aspects of the discussion, rather than ethical considerations or patient experience. These sources are, unfortunately, limited to the perspective of the psychiatrist administering the treatment. Within the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, there are only four sources which take place in the 1970s and 1980s. Therefore my source base is limited to what is written about in the journals. However, the literature largely agrees that the social pressures of marriage and procreation, in conjunction with stigma, drove patients to seek ‘relief’ from the burden of their same-sex desire.
My research aims to understand the historical narratives which underpin contemporary attitudes to homosexuality in the medical community, as well as the general public. Conversion therapy still exists across the globe, despite the UN Human Rights Commission calling for a ban. In order to understand how it exists today, the historical aspects must be explored and engaged with, so that the tangled narratives of homosexuality as a curable psychiatric disorder can be unwoven.
My findings so far have suggested that the psychiatrist, in this context, views their work as objective, impartial and necessary for the relief of the patient. There is very little ethical consideration about the work undertaken. The broader societal norms, such as marriage and procreation, are not interrogated, but are utilised to help ‘cure’ those who do not conform to heteronormativity. The discomfort and pain of the patient is not discussed, the overarching theme is that the ends justify the means.
‘LGBTQ+ conversion therapy in India: how it began and why it persists today’, The Conversation, UK, 2020. https://theconversation.com/lgbtq-conversion-therapy-in-india-how-it-began-and-why-it-persists-today-140316
‘Medical Imagination: Homosexuality in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 1970-1980’, En-Gender Journal, 3:2, 2020. https://engenderacademia.wordpress.com/startseite/en-gender-volume-3-issue-2-2020/
‘Indian Sex Life: Sexuality and the Colonial Origins of Modern Social Thought: Review, Durba Mitra’ ( United States: Princeton University Press, 2020), in South Asian Studies.
‘Conversion Therapy in Post-war India’ –
Social History Society
Online Conference, June 2020.
‘Queering and Querying: The Medical
Archive in post-1947 India’
Lancaster PG Seminar Series Online, November 2020.
‘Tantamount to Torture: The History of LGBT Conversion Therapy in Post-war India’
Association for Asian Studies International Conference 2021
‘”Monster Psychiatrist” – Conversion Therapy and the Case of Dr Aubrey Levin’
Monsters – 2nd Global Inclusive Interdisciplinary Conference 2021 (Accepted)