The founder's meeting of the Indian Psychoanalytic Society took place in Calcutta in 1922 with Girindrashekhar Bose, a young Bengali doctor who had read the English translations of Freud's work, in the chair. Of the fifteen original members, nine were college teachers of psychology or philosophy and five belonged to the medical corps of the Indian Army, including two British psychiatrists. In the same year, Bose wrote to Freud in Vienna. Freud was pleased that his ideas had spread to such a far-off land and asked Bose to write Ernest Jones, then President of the International Psychoanalytic Association, for membership of that body. Bose did so and the Indian Psychoanalytic Society, with Bose as its first president (a position he was to hold till his death in 1953) became a fully-fledged member of the international psychoanalytic community.
Cut off from the debate, controversy, and ferment of the psychoanalytic centers in Europe, and dependent upon often difficult to acquire books and journals for outside intellectual sustenance, Indian psychoanalysis was nurtured through its infancy primarily by the enthusiasm and intellectual passion of its progenitor. In the informal meetings of eight to ten people held on Saturday evenings at the president's househich was was to become the headquarters of the Indian Society after Bose's deathose read most of the papers and led almost all the discussions.
Although psychoanalysis attracted some academic and intellectual interest in the 1930s and 1940s, mostly in Calcutta, the number of analysts was still small (fifteen) when in 1945 a second training center, under the leadership of an Italian expatriate, Emilio Servadio, was started in Bombay.
To judge from the record of publications of its members, the small Indian society was fairly active up through the 1940s. There was a persistent concern with the illumination of Indian cultural phenomena as well as attempts to register the "Indian" aspects of the patients' mental life. By the early 1950s, however, the interest in comparative and cultural aspects of mental life, as well as the freshness of the papers written by the pioneering generation of Indian psychoanalysts, was lost. Thereafter, most Indian contributions, to judge from the official journal of the Indian Society, have been neither particularly distinctive nor original.
In the public arena, psychoanalysis has generally had an indifferent, if not hostile, reception. At first glance, the Indian indifference to psychoanalysis seems surprising, given the fact that there has rarely been a civilization in human history that has concerned itself so persistently over the millennia with the nature of the "self" and with seeking answers to the question, "Who am I?" As a colonized people, however, reeling under the onslaught of a conquering European civilization that proclaimed its forms of knowledge and its political and social structures as self-evidently superior, Indian intellectuals in the early twentieth century felt the need to cling doggedly to at least a few distinctive Indian forms in order to maintain intact their civilization's identity. The Indian concern with the "self," its psycho-philosophical schools of "self-realization," often appearing under the label of Indian metaphysics or "spirituality," has become one of the primary ways of salvaging self-respect, even a means of affirming a superiority over a materialistic Western civilization. Psychoanalysis was seen to be a direct challenge to the Indian intellectual's important source of self-respect; it stepped on a turf the Indian felt was uniquely his own.
Another reason for the rejection of Freudian concepts had to do with their origins. Derived from clinical experience with patients growing up in a cultural environment very different from that of India, some of the concepts, when transposed, did not carry much conviction. The different patterns of family life and the role of multiple caretakers in India seemed to push in the direction of modifications of psychoanalytical theory. Similarly, Freudian views of religion, derived from the Judeo-Christian monotheistic tradition, with its emphasis on a father-god, had little relevance for the Indian religious tradition of polytheism where mother-goddesses often constituted the deepest sub-stratum of Indian religiosity.
Because of its relative isolation, Indian psychoanalysis has been decisively marked by the stamp of the first Indian analyst, Girindrashekhar Bose (1886-1953). Without experiencing the benefits of training analysis himself, it was Bose who "analyzed" the other members in a more or less informal manner. He developed a method of his own, similar to the active therapy and forced fantasy method of Sándor Ferenczi, which calls for a more active, didactic stance from the analyst, and which came dangerously close to what a lawyer is forbidden to do in the courtroom, namely "lead the witness," increasing the chances of suggestion. In hindsight, Bose's important contribution to psychoanalysis was less his "theory of opposite wishes" and more his questioning of some presumed psychoanalytic universals, based on his clinical experience. In his letters to Freud, Bose points out differences in the castration reactions of his Indian and European patients and notes that the desire to be a female is more easily unearthed in Indian male patients than in European. Since cultural relativism was not on the psychoanalytic agenda in the 1930s when Bose communicated his observations, they received little attention.
The question of cultural relativism versus the universality of many psychoanalytic concepts and theories is very much at the heart of contemporary analyst Sudhir Kakar's work. Based on clinical and cultural data from India, Kakar has highlighted the cultural aspects of the psyche in his many books and papers, trying to show that mental representations of the culture play a significant role in psychic life.
The Indian Psychoanalytic Society has published a journal, Samiksa, the Journal of the Indian Psychoanalytical Society, since 1946.
Hartnack, Christiane. (1990). Vishnu on Freud's desk: psychoanalysis in colonial India. Social Research., 57 (4), p. 921-949.
Kakar, Sudhir. (1996). Culture and psyche: Psychoanalysis and India. New York: Psyche Press.
Vaidyanathan, T.G. (1996). Hinduism and psychoanalysis: A reader. Delhi, Oxford University Press.
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