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Tuesday, April 01, 2014


Psychology was first introduced as a subject in the Philosophy department of the Calcutta University in 1916. It had an alien quality to it, as Indians were not used to the empirical approach that was prevalent at that time. The then Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy, Brojendra Nath drafted the first syllabus. He was also the first to establish the first experimental lab in 1905 that later became the seat of the department when it was established. Studies in this lab revolved around depth perception, psychophysics and attention. Recognizing the scientific nature of psychology, the Indian Science Congress included it as a separate section in 1923. The Indian Psychological Association was founded in 1924. Soon after this, Girindra Shekhar Bose, who was in close contact with Freud, founded the Indian Psychoanalytic Society in 1922.

Bose, after receiving his PhD from Calcutta, established the Lumbini Park Mental Hospital in Calcutta in 1940 that brought out the journal ‘Samiksha’. Many Indian psychologists had contacts with the famous contributors to psychology during those days. Jung, Meyers, and Spearman were present during the Silver Jubilee Session of the Indian Science Congress. M.V. Gopalswami, head of the department of psychology at Mysore was trained in the London University with Spearman in the mental testing tradition. He helped develop Indian adaptations of Western intelligence tests. He was the first to establish the first animal lab in India.

The department at Patna began in 1946 along with the Institute of Psychological Research and Services headed by H. P. Maiti. Maiti was trained with Bose and was psychoanalytic in his approach and very soon the department at Patna became a major center for counselling services and research.

The empirical nature of psychology during those years meant that psychologists in India had to compartmentalize their aesthetic satisfaction of Hindu mythologies without seeking to bring the two together (Kakar, 1982). Psychologists were also aware that this singularity of the positivist approach was unable to fully explain the psycho-social nature of the Indian society or the Indian mind. Hence, there was no overlap between what the reality of Indian society was and the subjects being studied in the departments of Psychology during the British period. This also meant that they were unable to make any major societal changes or engage in research that would bring about social awareness.

 This bifurcation of the actual from the academic did not change even after Independence. In fact, it only become more pronounced. In most universities, there was a divide now between the Philosophy department and the Psychology department. Most of the philosophy professors became psychology professors and were very excited to be finally considered ‘scientific’. Hence, they continued to study areas like memory, psychophysics, perception, learning, pattern recognition and the like. They did not utilize their understanding of Indian Philosophy to help them better understand the Indian mind and behaviour.

Psychologists also did not focus on theory building and neither did they stick to any particular theory in their writings. Decisions were based more on what projects generated more funds. They also distanced themselves from issues of national interest. Hence, Psychology was distant in nature and it lacked a vision to take it forward.

But, in 1950, after the partition of India, the Ministry of Education sought the services of Gardner Murphy to help Indian scholars investigate the causes of communal violence. This endeavor resulted in a book called ‘In the Minds of Men’. This was a not just towards academic writing, but also towards understanding the mind set of Indian people.

Post Independence, there was also a shift of the growth of Psychology outside the university campuses. Kamla Chowdhury conducted a large-scale survey on motivational levels in textile industry workers. NIMHANS in 1955 and the Hospital for Mental Diseases in Ranchi introduced advanced training programmes for the benefit of personnel selection tests. 

In the 1950s-1960s the field of psychology saw huge progress as the UGC encouraged various universities to begin courses in psychology by funding them. As a result the number colleges offering psychology increased to a 32. The interests of the person heading the department at any given time governed the specialties that the departments focused on. Hence, departments were not able to focus on one field of specialization over a sustainable period of time.

The UGC continued in its efforts to promote excellence in education. In the late sixties it began a scheme of Centers for Advanced Studies and Centers for Special Assistance. Under these schemes the psychology departments at Utkal and Allahabad were given the status of Centers of Advanced Studies in Psychology. The aim was to improve the quality to be on par with the rest of the world.  The UGC expected these departments to take the lead in areas of advanced research.

The exchange programmes engaged by the fellowships of Commonwealth, Fulbright and Ford Foundation, encouraged many Indian scholars to be trained in the west (Britain, Canada, and the United States) and sharpen their skills. On their return these scholars were able to impart skill and engage in projects that had social impacts. Another development during this time was that psychology was introduced to various professional colleges like engineering, agriculture, management and medical sciences. However, the subject was taught by junior staff, research assistants, and demonstrators and received a low priority. This has not changed much even to this day.

In the seventies, many researchers became frustrated with being unable to conduct research within the university departments and hence research endeavors were taken outside the university departments. The universities were also not being able to control the quality of students entering the departments. The universities were also being effected by the politics of the nation and there was unrest on their campuses. Some of the institutes where A.N.S. Institute of Social Studies (Patna), Center for the Study of Developing Societies (New Delhi), and the National Institute of Community Development (Hyderabad).
The area of psychological testing continued to increase. Many western tests were being adapted to the Indian population. Out of the 503 tests, 218 were personality tests. However, these tests did not establish validation and seemed to have a language barrier. Hence, these tests were suited only for the urban population. The quality of these tests were thus in question.

The Second Handbook of tests by Pestonjee showed considerable improvement. This handbook showed improvements in the areas of establishing validity and including Indian adaptations of western tests. These tests were then used to conduct research on the prevalence of mental health problems by Sethi in Lucknow (1972), Dube in Agra (1970), Rao in rural Bengal (1972), Verghese in Vellore (1973). However, these epidemiological studies lacked depth in the study of the problem. Areas of drug abuse, yoga and health, psycholsocial aspects of family planning and mental retardation was slowing gaining momentum in the seventies. 

Towards the late seventies and eighties there was a noticeable change in the focus of research. Scholars began to research on social problems, Indian concepts and theories. Some of the areas of interest were teacher-pupil model in clinical counseling (Neki, 1973), leadership style – nurturant task-master (Sinha, 1980), the role of traditional healers in maintaining mental health in traditional societies (Kakar, 1982, and 1991), concept of stress based on ancient scripture (Rao, 1983), concepts of stress based on ancient scriptures (Bhavasari, Goswami, and Evans, 1986), and a measure to study the concept of detachment and its mental health consequences (1992). However, the majority of the research topics tend to be replicative and imitative. 

 The present trend in research and higher education in India is towards indigenization. An example in this trend is the book edited by Misra and Mohanty (2002) titled ‘Perspectives on Indigenous Psychology. 


sanjg said...

Lot of information is given which is easy to follow..article is written in a systematic way

Alfe Shiva said...

more informative & good effort.

josephine geetha said...

Nice to read the article on the history of psychology in India. It is very informative.

Manju Pandey said...

Good article. History is written in chronological order. Please mention the references.