|Year : 2021 | Volume
| Issue : 2 | Page : 148-150
Dr. Ajitha Chakraborty: The first practicing Indian female psychiatrist (October 31, 1926–May 08, 2015)
Department of Psychiatry, Institute of Mental Health, Osmania Medical College, Hyderabad, Telangana, India
|Date of Submission||21-Nov-2021|
|Date of Acceptance||27-Nov-2021|
|Date of Web Publication||12-Jan-2022|
Dr. Manasa Prabhakar
Institute of Mental Health, Osmania Medical College, Hyderabad, Telangana
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
Dr. Ajitha Chakraborty, popularly called Ajithadi by her students and juniors who remember her as outspoken, nonconformist, and perfectionist, was born in preindependent India on October 31, 1926. She graduated in medicine from Medical College, Bengal, then went on to get her DPM and MRCP, FRCP from England, and came back to India in 1960 after almost a decade. She was the first qualified and practicing female psychiatrist in India. She was the first lady president of IPS. She was a pioneer in the social and cultural psychiatry research, admired, and appreciated by the first-line researchers of the world in cultural psychiatry like H B M Murphy, Raymond Prince, etc. At the 5th World Congress of Psychiatry in Mexico City in 1971, she voiced her concerns that there were no sessions chaired by women and received widespread support. The Lancet requested her to write an invited article on “Culture, Colonialism and Psychiatry” in 1991. She also wrote an autobiography named, “My Life As A Psychiatrist: Memoirs And Essays”.
Keywords: Dr. Ajitha Chakraborty, koro epidemic, transcultural psychiatry, women in psychiatry
|How to cite this article:|
Prabhakar M. Dr. Ajitha Chakraborty: The first practicing Indian female psychiatrist (October 31, 1926–May 08, 2015). Telangana J Psychiatry 2021;7:148-50
|How to cite this URL:|
Prabhakar M. Dr. Ajitha Chakraborty: The first practicing Indian female psychiatrist (October 31, 1926–May 08, 2015). Telangana J Psychiatry [serial online] 2021 [cited 2022 Nov 28];7:148-50. Available from: https://tjpipstsb.org/text.asp?2021/7/2/148/335644
| Introduction|| |
Professor Ajita Chakraborty was born in Calcutta in the state of Bengal in 1926, at a time when the country was still a part of the British Empire. Her family had received Western education for generations and had been well connected, enterprising, urban middle-class with a streak of nonconformity that ran through generations. Throughout her early years, she was exposed to social inequalities, starting with the Bengal famine in 1943, followed by political unrest and riots in the backdrop of the Second World War.
She qualified from the Scottish Church College in Calcutta in 1944 (1st Division) and enrolled for the Calcutta Medical College. Her entry group had an exceptionally high proportion of young women, with 10 girls and 50 boys. After qualifying as a doctor in 1950, she traveled to the UK for training in psychiatry, as the specialty was not yet established in India and returned in 1960 as the first female psychiatrist in the country. Early political struggles with the rising force of communism in Bengal and professional contact with psychoanalysis left her, as Ashis Nandy wrote in the foreword to her memoirs, “both anti-Freud and anti-communist.”,
She had a keen interest in transcultural psychiatry. Some of her famous works in psychiatry include studies on how social factors and life events lead to various neurotic and psychotic disorders in the general population, how cultural ideas contribute to psychiatric diagnoses and treatment strategies challenging the application of Western treatments to Indian patients, etc., as mentioned in the contributions below. For several years, she worked on evolving an indigenous school of psychotherapy that was well adapted for the people she treated most of her life.
She was a member of the World Psychiatric Association, Transcultural Psychiatry Section, for 25 years. On her retirement from the editorial board of the journal Transcultural Psychiatry, the editor, Lawrence Kirmayer, thanked her for 'unique and invaluable contributions' to the journal over the years. In her later years, she wrote an autobiography called “My Life As A Psychiatrist: Memoirs and Essays,” in which she mentioned that at the age of 12, she read Bijoylal Chattopadhyay's Moner Khela, resulting in her lifelong fascination and commitment to psychiatry, discussed why psychiatry taught in West cannot be applied directly in other cultures. Many of Professor Chakraborty's students consider themselves exceptionally fortunate to have had her as their teacher.
She belonged to a rare breed of psychiatrists who critically evaluate psychiatric terminology and concepts, particularly exploring their cross-cultural validity, researching, and collaborating internationally. She stimulated her students through intellectual debate. She was instrumental in facilitating a rich interaction between psychiatrists, sociologists, psychotherapists, and intellectuals, promoting independent thinking in her students. Many eminent Indian psychiatrists now working both in India and abroad owe their professional expertise to their early training with her. Although she never considered herself a feminist, the way she led her life presented an example for the growing strength of women as professionals not limiting to psychiatry, across India and worldwide as well. Personally, learning about all her achievements and her life story in general has impacted and empowered me, as a young female psychiatrist in the field to do better every day while giving me a new perspective into the field. She died at the age of 88 on May 8, 2015.
- In 1963, Prof. Ajita Chakraborty started the first outpatient department service where patients would be seen thrice a week in the afternoons in the Department of Psychiatry, Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research. The hospital was also identified as the Nodal Centre for the United Nations' International Drug Control Program by the Ministry of Health, Government of India. In 1991, it was rechristened as Institute of Psychiatry
- She was highly active in the Indian Psychiatric Society in which she served as general secretary (1967–1968), treasurer (1971–1974), vice president (1975), and finally, as a tribute to her indomitable leadership qualities and organizational skills, as president of IPS in 1976
- She had undertaken a huge survey in the metropolitan city of Calcutta. The results were later published in a book “social stress and mental health” by the Sage publications She first carried out pioneering epidemiological studies (with an impressive sample size of 13 335) around Calcutta exploring sociological and cultural perspectives.
- She also wrote an autobiography named, 'My Life As A Psychiatrist: Memoirs And Essays'.
- She noted that visual hallucinations (visions of gods and goddess) were common, particularly in women. This made making a differentiation between 'pseudo' and true hallucinations a challenge
- She studied the outbreak of Koro in eastern parts of India and proposed a hypothesis linking this disorder with displacement as well as loss of agricultural land and threats to cultural identity among the farming population
- She had very original thoughts in every article she wrote and wrote some famous articles like, “Moral values and Mental Health” (presidential address given in Nagpur) and “Cargo cult in Calcutta – reappearance of a myth” published in 1971
- She was a member of the World Psychiatric Association, Transcultural Psychiatry Section, for 25 years.
| Conclusion|| |
One of the first women psychiatrists in India, Dr. Ajita Chakraborty, contributed much toward the field of transcultural psychiatry and worked on advancing a school of psychotherapy for the people she treated. She was an active member of the Indian Psychiatric Society and strived to drive matters of the mind in the Indian society. She was famous for her research on the visual hallucinations of gods and goddesses that were particularly common in women. She used to run a child guidance clinic in the Tiny Tot School after retirement. She was also an avid bird watcher. She was acutely aware of the disadvantages facing women in the professions in India, considering herself to be highly privileged at a time when, as she herself recalled “I was able to have advanced education and a professional career at a time when 90% of girls (in India) had no choice but marriage or family.” She acted as a role model for professional women in India at a time when feminism was still struggling to make its presence felt in the Western world.
I would like to thank Dr. Sireesha ma'am, Professor and HOD of Psychiatry, Institute of Mental Health, Hyderabad, for her guidance and encouragement for this work.
Financial support and sponsorship
Conflicts of interest
There are no conflicts of interest.
| References|| |
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