Body as a site of fight: Women and smallpox vaccination in Travancore

Due to the heavy death toll inflicted, smallpox was an abhorred visitor in Travancore (the southernmost princely state in pre-independent India). Ayurvedic medicines and prayers to epidemic deities were the only curative techniques practised by the populace before the introduction of vaccination to the princely state in the early 1800s. From 1813 onwards the administration was occupied with building a vaccination infrastructure which culminated in establishing the department of vaccination in 1865, which later was amalgamated with the Department of Public Health in 1895. Since the early years, the vaccination efforts of the princely state were thwarted by its lack of- trained professionals, financial resources, quality lymph, – adverse climate and hostility among certain caste and religious communities. From the beginning, vaccination was despised by both Muslims and Namboothiri Brahmins, citing religious or caste prohibitions. Extending vaccination to the women of these communities was an arduous task, due to the inaccessibility of their bodies or the private spaces of the household to a male outsider. From 1879 onwards the state decided to make vaccination compulsory, first in public spaces and later in private spaces, which led to the body of the women being a site of a fight between men and the state.