The AIIMS Hospital in New Delhi is generally considered by doctors and academic scholars as one of independent India’s major triumphs in the fields of medicine and public health. However, though public discourse in contemporary India takes as self-evident the significance of AIIMS for national health and national pride, the idea of AIIMS was a highly contested one in the early post-independence years. Many of these conflicts and contestations, including those encapsulated under the general rubric of modern medicine vs traditional or indigenous medicine, have animated debates on healthcare in India ever since. This presentation will focus on those early tumultuous years in the run-up to the establishment of AIIMS, particularly looking at the voluminous record of contemporaneous Parliamentary discussions and debates wherein India’s public representatives offered a wide spectrum of views and suggestions on whether or not India “needed” AIIMS, and wherein India’s Minister of Health Rajkumari Amrit Kaur steadfastly defended her Ministry’s ambitious proposal.
Kiran Kumbhar is a historian and public communicator with a background in medical and public health practice. He is currently affiliated with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and was a Fellow with the Yale South Asian Studies Council in 2022-23.