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Daughters of Parvati

Women and Madness in Contemporary India

By Sarah Pinto

Publication Year: 2014

In her role as devoted wife, the Hindu goddess Parvati is the divine embodiment of viraha, the agony of separation from one's beloved, a form of love that is also intense suffering. These contradictory emotions reflect the overlapping dissolutions of love, family, and mental health explored by Sarah Pinto in this visceral ethnography.

Daughters of Parvati centers on the lives of women in different settings of psychiatric care in northern India, particularly the contrasting environments of a private mental health clinic and a wing of a government hospital. Through an anthropological consideration of modern medicine in a nonwestern setting, Pinto challenges the dominant framework for addressing crises such as long-term involuntary commitment, poor treatment in homes, scarcity of licensed practitioners, heavy use of pharmaceuticals, and the ways psychiatry may reproduce constraining social conditions. Inflected by the author's own experience of separation and single motherhood during her fieldwork, Daughters of Parvati urges us to think about the ways women bear the consequences of the vulnerabilities of love and family in their minds, bodies, and social worlds.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Contemporary Ethnography

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

Note on Transliterations

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pp. ix-x

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Introduction: Love and Affliction

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pp. 1-38

January in north India is a strange kind of cold for someone used to Boston winters, to piercing air and eclipsing snowfalls. It is milder, but demands more effort—spreading quilts, seeking sunlight, finding warmth outdoors. On such mornings, after wiping the dust off my daughter’s mary janes,...

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1. Rehabilitating Ammi

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pp. 39-77

In October, on the eighth day of the festival Navratri, Mrs. M. called Eve to her dining room. Today was Kanya Puja, a day to worship young girls as the goddess, to feed them sweet things. Instead of taking from our hands the leftovers of deities’ feasts, they would eat first and we would take what...

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2. On Dissolution

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pp. 78-116

Moksha is the name I have given to a small, private psychiatric clinic on the edge of the city. Moksha means liberation, with a touch of transcendence, depending on your soteriology. The name’s irony is my effort to capture the unkindness of the clinic’s real name, in which the idea of surpassing...

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3. Moksha and Mishappenings

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pp. 117-152

Some days in the ward we pick stones out of rice, a task so common to Indian women’s kitchen worlds that it has its own verb. I sit on the floor with Pooja, Sanjana, Riti, and Isma. The rice arrives from the kitchen in a plastic bag. Pooja pours it onto plates, one for each person. The sound...

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4. On Dissociation

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pp. 153-198

The psychiatry unit of Nehru Government Hospital was at the edge of a large campus, just beyond the traffic of a busy thoroughfare. Not far from the old city, Nehru gave a sense of being in the dense middle of things, of having arrived at a center. Through grand gates, its main buildings were...

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5. Making a Case

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pp. 199-237

Among the many scenarios Eve and her friends enacted in their play, the most popular was shadi—wedding. Transforming my dupattas into saris, turbans, and dhotis, expertly folding, pleating, tucking, and wrapping, they played bride, groom, and priest, hosted ceremonies, songs, and the sobbing...

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6. Ethics of Dissolution

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pp. 238-262

One afternoon, Mrs. P. phoned Mrs. M. to invite us to a talk at the university by a feted alumnus, a psychiatrist relocated to the United States, where he now held a high position in a professional psychiatric organization. Arriving late, we were ushered into the packed room and shown to seats at...


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pp. 263-272


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pp. 273-280


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pp. 281-283

E-ISBN-13: 9780812209280
E-ISBN-10: 0812209281
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812245837

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 2 illus.
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Contemporary Ethnography

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Psychiatry -- India -- History -- 21st century.
  • Women -- Mental health services -- India.
  • Psychiatric hospitals -- India.
  • Mentally ill women -- Care -- India.
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