Emerging infrastructures the politics of radium and the validation of radiotherapy in India’s f...

Robert D. SMITH

This article traces the history of India’s first tertiary cancer hospital, Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH). TMH was originally conceived in 1932 as a philanthropic project by the Tatas, an elite Parsi business family in Bombay. The founding of TMH represented a form of philanthro-capitalism which both enabled the Tatas to foster a communal acceptance for big businesses in Bombay and provide the Tatas with the opportunity to place stakes in the emerging nuclear research economy seen as essential to the scientific nationalist sentiment of the post-colonial state. In doing this, the everyday activities of TMH placed a heavy emphasis on nuclear research. In a time when radium for the treatment of cancer was still seen as ‘quackery’ in much of the world, the philanthro-capitalist investment and the interest in nuclear research by the post-colonial state provided an environment where radium medicine was able to be validated. The validation of radiotherapy at TMH influenced how other cancer hospitals in India developed and also provided significant resources for cancer research in early-mid twentieth century India. Ultimately, this article identifies ways in which cancer comes to be seen as relevant in the global south and raises questions on the relationship between local and global actors in setting health priorities.