Intimate gifts and ‘bad’ deaths: Reflections on organ transplants, state and society in Gujarat

The emergent public discourse on organ transplant finds an ‘elective affinity’ with Hindu and Jain debates on death, rendering itself as a discourse that excludes Gujarat’s Muslims.
Discursive strategies around organ donation in India, as elsewhere, are bio-medical as well as religio-moral in nature (Image source: http://www.thehealthsite.com/)
Discursive strategies around organ donation in India, as elsewhere, are bio-medical as well as religio-moral in nature. Given that cadaver transplants remain a largely untapped resource in India, this paper is concerned with the relative medical success and social acceptance of this mode of transplant among certain communities in contemporary Gujarat. Why is Gujarat a privileged site for this ethnography? First, according to available data, Gujarat has achieved a relative success rate in cadaver kidney transplants even as the country is still struggling with the cultural acceptability of this mode of transplant. In Tamil Nadu, where figures are also somewhat above the national average, there is also a thriving black market in organs. Second, even as Gujarat appears to have taken to cadaver organ donation as a form of public altruism, it is also reputed to have a particularly polarised socio-religious fabric. Widely regarded as the ‘laboratory’ of Hindutva Gujarat has acquired the grim reputation for being an experimental site of Hindu nationalist politics. This has found expression in frequent attacks against religious and caste minorities, most recently in the 2002 pogrom against its Muslim minorities. This ethnography is an attempt to resolve this seeming contradiction: a heightened sense of public altruism that translates into forms of giving that end up valorising inter-community bonding which appear to be at odds with the violence that otherwise structures social and political intimacies in contemporary Gujarat.
..... debates around organ donation—from the perspective of religion as well as state—become critical to an understanding of not just how a global discourse translates into a local cultural context, but also how it configures specific cultural subjectivities around religion, death and violence.
As an ethnographic perspective on organ donation in Gujarat, the paper suggests that debates around organ donation—from the perspective of religion as well as state—become critical to an understanding of not just how a global discourse translates into a local cultural context, but also how it configures specific cultural subjectivities around religion, death and violence. Through a discussion on how organ donation is framed by law and society as a desirable social good in general and as dan in particular, the article concludes that the emergent public discourse on organ transplant finds an ‘elective affinity’ with Hindu and Jain debates on death, rendering itself as a discourse that excludes Gujarat’s Muslims. Given the violence that configures recent Gujarati Muslim experiences of death, the article asks what the social consequences of organ donation discourses are for those who cannot share in the discursive construction of organ donation as a celebratory exercise in gift giving.
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