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State, religion and the marginalisation of traditional healing in Gwadar, Pakistan
  1. Shakir Ullah,
  2. He Guoqiang,
  3. Usman Khan,
  4. Komal Niazi
  1. Anthropology, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou, China
  1. Correspondence to Dr Shakir Ullah, Anthropology, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou, China ; anthropologistshakir{at}


This ethnographic encounter explores suppression and domination faced by traditional health seekers in Gwadar, Pakistan. The study aimed to provide an insight into the ways in which practicing traditional healthcare becomes a challenge when it conflicts with the assimilationist project of the state. Qualitative research methods, including in-depth interviews and participant observation, were used to collect data on the encounters of traditional health seekers with the state and dominant religion. The findings show that traditional health seeking behaviour was stereotyped as non-civilised and archaic by medical staff, and labelled as non-religious, and thus, suppressed by radical Islamist groups and other state apparatuses. This situation has further negative effects on the health of traditional health seekers as the national healthcare system does not efficiently provide the services required by this population. State laws, a general environment of fear, and threats have led this population to legal consciousness and contextual awareness; they have further adopted multiple resistance strategies to navigate and circumvent oppressive laws and domination in order to follow their traditional healthcare practices. This study suggests that national cosmopolitan healthcare services provided to the fishing community should be tailored to and not suppress the culturally specific health needs of that population. Members of the fishing community should not be compelled to abstain from their traditional healthcare and health-seeking behaviours; traditional healthcare practices should be merged with cosmopolitan ones in order to address the sociocultural issues and meet the health needs of this marginalised population.

  • health policy
  • medical anthropology
  • social anthropology
  • anthropology
  • human rights

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  • Contributors SU conceived of the presented idea. HG developed theory, methods and contributed in literature review. SU conducted the fieldwork. SU with the help of UK and KN analysed and sort out the field data in the supervision of HG. HG extensively reviewed the manuscript for all sort of corrections.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval For the fieldwork in the study area, the study proposal was approved by home department academic committee. The formal field visit approval was obtained from the host university with the approval letter No. 0015118. Furthermore, taking part in patient–doctor interaction a formal approval was taken from District Health authority Gwadar Pakistan. For data collection and participant observation, the researcher has strictly followed all the field ethics directed by the ethic committee of the host department. Fully informed verbal consent was obtained from the patients and other research participants before proceeding for the interviews.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.