ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

‘There is no Hawa-bayar’: Perception of Illness among Women and Medical Professionals in Eastern Uttar Pradesh


Rawat Suman


15 – Hospitals in South Asia: Historical and Ethnographic Perspectives


 In India, public health authorities run programs (yojanas) to promote medical assistance during childbirth and to ensure the health of women and their children. In Uttar Pradesh (UP), yojanas are at a particular intersection of scientific explanations of illnesses by health professionals and the desire for healing within the age-old experiences of illness among women in the community. In this paper, I will rely on the illness called Hawa-bayar, commonly identified among women in the rural areas of eastern UP during childbirth, to show that public health yojanas produce scientific discourses of illnesses which intersect with women’s understanding of illness from the past experiences, leading to the new interpretations of illness. The literal translation of Hawa-bayar in English is ‘wind’. Women perceive Hawa-bayar as an illness caused by the spirits which can be healed by the local practitioners, if not, it affects women’s reproductive power. Although medical professionals’ classification denies the existence of this illness, ethnographic materials which I have collected from the primary and community health centres from rural areas of eastern UP suggest that medical and paramedical staff members play a crucial role in women’s interpretation of Hawa-bayar. This paper highlights how women, as both patients and medical staff, share the experience of complications due to Hawa-bayar, hence leading to a complex intersection of medical discourse and healing methods.