Healing Kashmir

LKH DeskRecommended, Uncategorized Comments


The condition of Kashmiris was terrible around the late nineteenth century. The prayer Ya-shafi-al-amraaz used to be repeated hundreds of times across the mosques in Kashmir. Diseases like Woba (Cholera), Taawan (plague), Shuteil buid (Small pox), naaf-dullen, typhus, typhoid, tuberculosis, taal pein were common. As per the census of 1891-1892 the life expectancy for males in rural and urban areas was 21 and 22 years respectively. The corresponding figure for females was 19 and 20 years. Hardly anybody lived beyond their thirties.

Mr. & Mrs. Clark

In the month of April 1864, Mr. Robert Clark, accompanied by Mrs. Elizabeth Clark, and some reliable native assistants entered the valley. They had already rented a house. On their arrival at Srinagar, thousands of men and women protested their visit (on the command of the Majaraha). They threatened to set their house on fire, some of them even threw stones.

A French resident in the city, accompanied by a few more people took the matter to the Maharaja and warned him of dire consequences for insulting and endangering the life of a missionary and his family. Soon, the protests stopped but other means were adopted of obstructing the missionaries in his work, in the hope that, being discouraged, they might abandon it and retire from the valley. Men were stationed on the bridge close to their house, to prevent anyone from coming to visit them, or, if they persevered, to report their names to the Wuzeer (Chief Minister).

The Mahraja forbid shopkeepers from selling anything to the missionary, his family and his servants. People were arrested, beaten and tortured, one Husu Khan’s feet were tied with logs for visiting Mr. and Mrs. Clark.

They started the first dispensary for women at their rented house in Kashmir, which is now the site of the Government College for Women, Nawakadal.

Mr. Clark in a letter to Mr. Coldstream in May 1864, informs him that:

“Mrs. Clark has begun a dispensary, which is crowded daily and takes up daily three hours of her time in hard work. Today there were eighty-four cases,—one man came twelve miles from a village, and a poor woman, thought to be dying, having recovered, the dispensary stands high in public estimation. The native apothecary, who is supposed to cure all the Maharajah’s soldiers at one pice a-head daily, came today and wants to send his son for instruction. All this will do good.”

Mr. and Mrs. Clack had to leave Kashmir in the winters due to the rules set by the Maharaja, which didn’t allow any outside to stay in the country during winters.

Dr. William Jackson Elmslie

A Scottish Presbyterian doctor from Aberdeen, William Jackson Elmslie was a medical graduate from The University of Edunburg. He followed Mr. and Mrs. Clack’s footsteps and opened a dispensary in Kashmir on 9th May 1865. Dr. Elmslie was also a missionary who used to recite Gospel to his patients as they awaited their turn. According to him, the valley was reeling under the darkness of other religions, he also used to mock other religions due to which he was confronted by the Muslim Preachers & the Maharaja. He did try to convert people but met with no success. Not many years after his arrival in Kashmir, he authored and published the first English to Kashmiri dictionary (Click here to download).

He was also the first doctor to have undertaken an operation to remove a bladder stone from a Kashmiri patient.

Dr. William had a habit of recording the events of his daily routine –

18th May,1865 — “The number of patients this morning was forty. Excised a cystic tumour from a young man. Having explained the object and effects of chloroform, I asked him if he wished me to give it to him. After some slight hesitation he consented. In all probability this is the first time a native Kashmiri has been anaesthetised in the valley with chloroform.”

31st May,1865 — “Opened my small hospital to-day. It accommodates from four to five patients. The verandah, in which the patients used to assemble to hear the address, has been fitted up for this purpose, while the long verandah downstairs is in future to be our meeting-room, being much larger than the one above. Vaccinated the two children of the Brahmin at the head of financial matters in Kashmir.”

22nd August, 1865 — “Learned today from one of the Maharajah’s military servants that the report I had heard some time ago about the sepoys and people having been prohibited from coming to me was quite correct. Besides, it turns out that a sepoy had been placed at the end of the wooden bridge adjacent to my bungalow, to keep a watch upon my movements. Both the sepoys and people have up to this time paid very little attention to the prohibition.”

Elmslie’s Assistant and a secret convert, Qadir Bakhsh.

25th September, 1865 — “Heard glad news today from the catechist, to the effect that my Kashmiri Pandit had declared to him that he firmly believed the gospel was true, but that he was afraid to make a public profession of his faith in Jesus for fear of the consequences. He is but a Nicodemus in faith. Lord strengthen him. I was not at all surprised at this news, for the pundit generally spent his Sundays with us in reading the New Testament, and speaking about Christianity. Another Kashmiri, who fearlessly declared his faith in Christ in an open bazaar yesterday, endured a terrible beating from his fellow-countrymen.

3rd April, 1866 — “We have to fight against a strong foe; the devil and his emissaries have long held the fort in Kashmir, poor perishing Kashmiris, for whom I could weep all day. Pray for me and Kashmir, mother.

11 April, 1866 — “Saw the man who bakes for the English, and, noticing the dirty state of his garments, expostulated. He said he dare not wear clean clothes, for if he did, he would be thought wealthy, and more taxes would be required of him.”

In 1967 Cholera spread in Kashmir when some sepoys who had got leave to go and wash in the Ganges at Hardwar, had returned to their regiment at Srinagar and brought the seeds of cholera with them. Hundreds of deaths were reported from July to September. Elmslie’s rescue was limited as people weren’t allowed to meet him.

“When the cholera was at its worst, it was announced in the city, that His Highness the Maharajah had discovered an effectual cure for the disease. This cure consisted of a printed manthar or charm, which was to be repeated, and pasted above the doors of the houses. This charm, it was announced, was not only curative but preventive also. Each copy cost four annas. Large numbers of the Hindoos bought them; but, poor people, they soon discovered their inefficiency.” (p.207)

By 1870s, Maharaja had set up his own Dispensary and was forcing people to abandon Elmslie. In 1872, while on leave in Scotland, Elmslie married Margaret Duncan and returned with her to find Srinagar in the throes of another severe cholera epidemic. His own health was affected and he had to leave Srinagar in the last week of September (as no winter stays were allowed), his condition worsened due to the journey across snowy mountains. He died in Gujarat. After his death, permission to remain in Kashmir year round was received.

Dr. Elmslie is credited with writing a paper on Kangri Cancer – a cancerous form that eventually got noted in medical texts.

Dr Theodore Maxwell & Wade

Dr. Maxwell replaced Elmslie in 1874. He was the nephew of General John Nicholson, the hero of Delhi, who had been one of the first political officers in Kashmir and a personal friend of the Maharajah Ranbir Singh. So the reopening of the work was under much more favourable conditions, and the Maharajah gave a house for the doctor and a fine site for the hospital upon the northern slopes of the Rustum Gaddi hill, a spur of the Takht-i-Suliman. Maxwell left after two years and the health care center was managed by Rev TR Wade with the help of an Indian Christian doctor—John Williams.

Maxwell wrote in his report :

“To give an idea of the frequency of epithelioma in Kashmir, as compared with it in other parts of India and in Europe, I may say that in the Vienna Hospital, in 1873, of 22,049 patients, 86 were cases of epithelioma, or .039 per cent; in the Lahore Hospital, in 1873, of 22,123 patients, there were 11 cases of malignant tumours or .007 percent; whereas in the Kashmir Mission Dispensary, in 1874-5, of 3924 patients, there were 49 cases of epithelioma, or 1.24 percent. A proportion more than thirty times as great as in Vienna, and 117 times as great as in Lahore.”

Apart from rendering relief in famine, Wade started an orphanage with 400 orphans. Mr. Wade had a decade of experience in India, and did his most useful work at the Kashmiri language; he compiled a grammar and translated the New Testament, thus laying broad, strong foundations for his successors. In the famine which followed and lasted a few years, he rendered invaluable service to the famine-stricken people. The official policy was to ignore it and suppress all information, but Mr. Wade raised large relief funds, and at the same time aroused the official conscience to take some steps to meet the widespread distress.

Dr. Edmund Downes

In 1877, Dr. Edmund Downes arrives on the scene. He was known in North India as that of a bold and skillful surgeon. A terrible famine followed his coming and his team undertook much relief work, distributing food and helping to dig a canal. A measure of services rendered could be gauged by 1000 treated as inpatients in 1878.The plight of the mentally sick was distressing and, as these patients had no home or carers, they wandered through the streets and lived as beggars. By personal contributions and donations from England he managed to get 6,000 pounds and erected a Mission Hospital with facilities for more than a hundred in-patients. Dr Edmund Downes also built an asylum for the mentally sick in 1881–82 where 250 patients were treated in the first year, which is now Psychiatry Hospital, Badamwari. He worked tirelessly for six years till he in turn was forced by ill-health to retire in 1882.

Dr. Arthur Neve & Dr. Earnest Neve

Arthur and Neve were brothers, both had joined CMS to serve in Africa but were sent to Kashmir in 1883. Dr. Arthur Neve came in 1882, Dr. Earnest Neve joined him in 1856. After the death of Maharaja Ranbir Singh, rules were softened for Medical Missionaries. They stayed in Kashmir for about 3 decades during the later half of 19th century. These doctors and their Allopathic Medicines brought much-needed relief and happiness to the local population. They traveled extensively across entire length and breadth of Kashmir. Besides writing several medical papers published in The Lancet, Dr. Arthur Neve (1859-1919 ) authored following books:

1- Kashmir Ladakh and Tibet (1899)

2- Picturesque Kashmir (1900)

3- Thirty Years in Kashmir (1913)

4- The Tourist’s Guide to Kashmir & Ladakh (1923)

Dr Ernest Neve (1861-1946 ) also wrote some books :

1- Beyond the Pir Panjal. Life Among the Mountains and Valleys of Kashmir (1912)

2- A Crusader in Kashmir (1928)

3- Things Seen in Kashmir (1931).

Dr. Arthur Neve and his brother performed 30,000 surgeries in Kashmir which included 3,651 Eye operations, 864 operations for Tumors and 579 Bone operations apart from treating patients of Kangri Cancers, Syphilis, Leprosy and Small Pox. Dr. Arthur Neve also fought the terrible outbreak of cholera and famine in Kashmir during 1883.

Dr Arthur Neve writes in his Book:

“Post 1885 earthquake, as I moved through villages, the stench was awful and might be smelt half a mile away from the putrefying bodies of animals. I found men and women with dislocations and fractures unreduced and unset; the few survivors had been so stunned by the calamity that they thought little of minor injuries. People gave special offerings in shrines. For us, it was a time for deeds rather than for words, for sympathy than sermons. The boat that carried me, was converted to a hospital.”

In the year 1899, 35,000 visits had been registered at the hospital, besides patients seen in the villages while trekking through the countryside. Nineteen years after his arrival, the Kaisar-i-Hind gold medal was conferred on Dr. Arthur Neve for Public Service. During this period a number of catastrophes, both natural and man-made, hit Kashmir. In 1885 a great earthquake occurred and five serious cholera epidemics with at least forty thousand deaths each year occurred in 1888, 1892, 1900, 1907 and 1910.

At that time practically the whole population of Kashmir contracted smallpox in childhood. It was described by Dr. Neve as the most frequent cause of total incurable blindness. He wrote that from smallpox and other causes, fifty percent of children in Kashmir were said to die in infancy.

An epidemic of plague with over 95 percent mortality was reported in 1903. The disease gradually died out after lingering in some isolated villages near Wular Lake.

Tyndale Biscoe wrote in his biography:

“In 1892, 500 to 700 persons died of cholera per day in Kashmir valley. The Mullahs and the Brahmin priest won’t allow people to take western medicine. The mullah and the brahmin priest wrote Allah and Shiva on local paper and asked people to swallow it with Jhelum water that was already full of cholera germs. Later people started visiting Mission Hospital and lives of so many could be saved. One Kashmiri was in the third stage of cholera. The only option was a blood transfusion. Dr. Arthur Neve did it by opening a vein in his own Arm and transferring it with a rubber tube into his vein. Neve and I spent a night at the hospital and hoped for the best, but it was not to be.”

Dr. Ernest Neve did a wide range of surgery and his contributions to the people of Kashmir are evident when one realizes that he published papers on cataract surgery, tubercular lymphadenitis, caesarean section in osteomalacia, besides kangri cancer. In 1891, a separate State Leper Hospital was established by the State under the management of the Neve brothers. About twelve acres of land on a peninsula projecting into the Nagin Lake and £300 for a thirty-bed hospital and one year’s maintenance were granted by the Maharajah. By 1911 the number of patients had reached one hundred.

The Neve brothers also brought injectable cholera Vaccine to Kashmir. They were also joined by their niece Nora. Arthur died due to fever in Kashmir, at the age of 59, on 5 September 1919 and was buried near Sheikh Bagh. This marked the end of his 33 years of service in Kashmir (Click here to download – 30 Years in Kashmir by Arthur Neve). The state had never before witnessed such a large gathering of local people to mourn the death of a hero.

Ernest continued the healing service until his retirement in 1934. For over a decade after retirement, he continued to stay in Kashmir, where he eventually died in 1946.

The first lady missionary doctor to India, Fanny Butler opened a dispensary ‘Zenana Shifa Khana’ in 1888, where she treated five thousand patients in one year. The dispensary was later turned into a Zanana Hospital in 1897. Today, we call it Lal-Ded Maternity Hospital.

In 1891 the Maharajah of Kashmir also donated land and a sum of Rs. 1500 for setting up a Visitors Cottage Hospital exclusively for white people at the foothills of the Shankaracharya Hill.

In 1892-93, 146 mental health patients were treated at a newly built asylum connected with the Srinagar Jail.

The St. Joseph’s Mission Hospital was established in the mid-1930s in Baramulla by the Mill Hill Missionaries.

In the mid-1940s, a British official in the imperial court of Maharaja of Kashmir, proposed a hospital for poor population near the carpet factory in the outskirts of Srinagar city. There is a folklore associated with this hospital. It is said that the official who proposed the plan for the hospital also donated the land for this pioneer hospital. The name of the official was Sir Heedo.

Sir Heedo had a son who had some sort of congenital anomaly. After years of treatment by the best doctors in the world, his life could not be saved. This incident moved Sir Heedo. He felt more sympathetic towards the poor people of Kashmir. He then proposed the plan for the hospital, donated the land and as well as arranged for the funds and missionary doctors from Europe. After everything was settled, Maharaja helped in the construction of the hospital. The hospital started functioning in 1948 and was named as Sri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS). But the majority of people in Kashmir still call it Hedwun Hospital (Heedo’s Hospital).

After 1947, Government opened many primary health centers in Kashmir. Subsequently, Government Medical College (GMC) started functioning in 1959 at Hazuribagh on the banks of the Jhelum River. The building was later shifted on the campus of SMHS in 1961.

In 1970’s, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah proposed a super specialty hospital in his home village Soura. This hospital was named after its founder as Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS). It was considered one of the best hospitals and Research Centres in India.

During late 1980’s SKIMS was considered among top 5 government-run research Centres in India. Also, during this time many national and international seminars, workshops etc. were held at this premier institute.

Muslims, a huge majority, remained trapped in poverty and starvation during the Dogra rule. Access to the state resources, symbolic, political, economic and cultural was selectively restricted to Hindus. The Dogra imperialism was concurred throughout Kashmir as it brought nothing but misery to the people of the valley morally, intellectually and physically. The Muslims found themselves gradually unrepresented and unprotected, this led to their rise in early 1900s, which later led to the uprising of 1931.

Notable Mentions:
J. H. Knowles
Miss K. Knowles
Dr. Minnie Gomery
Miss Newnham

About the Author
LKH Desk

LKH Desk