Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA)
Oral Presentation Session
Since the early 1990s, herbal and nature cure (prakriti chikista) treatments have become popular interventions for managing a “health crisis” in Kerala, south India: chronic lifestyle diseases. Often without professional licensing, these practitioners serve as public health activists, gaining regional fame through private treatments and public classes at natural healing centres. Crucial to the production of this “return to nature” aesthetic is the invisible, empathetic labour of low-caste female migrant workers from across northern India. Without recognition, these migrant women ironically provide the emotional care and physical treatments that are crucial for middle-class Kerala patients’ experience of local “medicine-free” tradition. This paper juxtaposes the life narratives and caregiving interactions of two female migrant workers, Maya and Seema, who each experience different levels of success in gaining acknowledgment and respect. Drawing on Michael Lambek’s articulations of practice and performance, this paper first explores how Maya and Seema’s labour becomes subtly enacted as ordinary practice in hospital life: an unmarked flow of necessary action. In contrast, the natural and herbal healers they work for engage in deliberate therapeutic performances, serving as spectacles of efficacy. This paper will then attend to the temporal dimensions of Maya and Seema’s daily life practice, exploring the extent to which they initiate goals to change possible circumstances of their lives, while also retrospectively recognizing their situated limits.