Memoirs of Doctors who worked in the Kashmir Medical Missionary

As i was searching on the topic of Kashmir Medical Missionary, i came across two books written by the two Missionary Doctors of that time which give us interesting information about life & times of common Kashmiris. The first book which i got hold of is ‘SEEDTIME IN KASHMIR’ which is a memoir of Dr William Elmslie & the second book is ‘BEYOND THE PIR PANJAL – LIFE AND MISSIONARY ENTERPRISE IN KASHMIR’ written by Dr Ernest Neve. Both the books lay emphasis on the missionary activities for which they were actually sent by the Church to Kashmir. William Elmslie’s book, ‘Seedtime in Kashmir’ is titled so as to denote the start of the Christian Missionary activity in Kashmir. William Elmslie was a Scottish Doctor who started first dispensary in Kashmir in 1865. This book has a collection of his notes, his letters to his mother and what he told to his friend & his wife. In the book, Dr Elmslie describes valley of Kashmir as Valley of Sin because according to him, the valley is reeling under darkness of other religions & not his religion. He at various times mocks the religions being followed in the valley. The major emphasis of this book as well his purpose of him being in Kashmir was  the missionary activity. The doctor talks of numerous instances where due to his missionary work, he was confronted by the Muslim Preachers & the Maharaja of that time. He talks of an event in which he was warded off by the preacher when he went to Hazratbal. He also talks of an unofficial offer being given by the Maharaja that if he stopped his missionary work & concentrated only on the medical work, he would be given thousand rupees per year. With all this written in the book, he also has some firsts in the medical field in Kashmir. Following are some of the excerpts of his book :

“But what is this oppression that I have spoken of? It is this — that at one swoop half of every man’s produce goes into the Government treasury. Half of everything, not merely of his grain, but even of the produce of his cattle, or whatever he has ; so that from each cow he must give every second year a calf to Government, and from every half-dozen of his chickens three go to the all-devouring sirkar. More than this even, his very fruit trees are watched by Government and half taken for the Maharajah. A poor Kashmiri can call nothing his own. But, in reality, it is not only half a man loses, for at least another quarter is taken by the rapacious government officials who have to collect the nominal half. Shakdars, Kardars, Ziladars, soldiers, and others, all come in for their share. The wonder is, how the people exist at all. Of course I am a credulous missionary, and believed every story I heard, but I should like to find the man in Kashmir who could deny these facts. But it is not only the poor peasants who suffer ; perhaps the condition of the shawl weavers is worse still They are all the servants of the Government, which supplies them with material, and doles out to them a scanty pittance of two annas a day, and then sells them the rice (which it has taken from the peasants) at any price which it chooses to set upon it. These shawl weavers are a lean wan race, recognizable at once from their sallow complexion, thin cheeks and despondent look………….

         “But there are other things in Kashmir which most terribly detract from its pleasure as a place of residence. The dirt is beyond description. Who can tell what Kashmir smells are ? Not the odours of roses, such as one has expected to fill the air ; but, oh ! such, that the dirtiest of London courts is sweeter than the cleanest of Kashmir villages. The clothes, too, of the people are filthy; not that the filth shows much, for all their garments are of grey wool, which is a most perfect concealer of dirt ; but not a few of their diseases are the result of their uncleanliness, and how often I have almost shrunk away from them, as, in my dispensary, when I have been examining a patient, I have seen the lice crawling on his clothes and his fleas skipping over to me…………..

Dr Elmslie had the habit of recording the events of his daily routine. Some of them which have a significance are noted below :

9th May,1865To-day is memorable in the history of the Kashmir Medical Mission, from the fact that I opened my dispensary this morning. I had given notice that I intended receiving patients from this date. The verandah on the southern aspect of the house was prepared for the sick people to meet in. Punctually at seven o’clock a.m., I, Qadir, the catechist, and my two native assistants went into the verandah, after supplicating together the blessing of God on the work which we were about to initiate in Srinagar. Qadir read the opening verses of the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, and made a running and suitable commentary on the passage. The service was closed with a brief prayer for the divine blessing. I now retired to the small verandah on the east side of the house, which I had fitted up — very rudely, I must confess — as a dispensary. Here the patients were seen one by one. The number present to-day was ten.

” 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,1865Opened 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.

” 15th June,1865 — With the aid of chloroform, removed a large staphyloma. The people are becoming acquainted with the fact there is a medicine that takes away pain by making them sleep, and readily take it when it is required. Heard to-day that orders had been issued by the heads of the native Government that no sepoy is to come to me for advice and medicine.

” 17th June,1865 — A poor coolie, who had been accidentally shot in the thigh, died this morning in hospital. His relatives would not grant a postmortem examination. It is impossible for medicine to make much progress in India as long as it continues to be so difficult to obtain specimens of morbid anatomy.

 ” 19th June,1865 — Assisted by the Eev. Mr. Yeates, performed resection of the wrist-joint. The patient was a young woman. Her parents were present during the operation.

” 21th July,1865 — (Srinagar). In the afternoon, performed Chopart’s operation for caries of the bones of tarsus. The patient was a girl, whose father and mother were present during the operation. Chloroform was administered to the patient, who went off very quickly. In operating, my difficulties are legion, for I have everything to do myself.


Some portions from Dr Ernest Neve’s book, Beyond The Pir Panjal : To begin with, a Kashmiri saying in the book

                     ” Haki’mas ta hakimas nishh tachhtam Khodayo.”

                     ” O God, save me from physicians and rulers “

‘In spite of his great physical strength and powers of endurance, the Kashmiri is highly strung and neurotic, and he will  often weep on slight provocation. In the presence of very little danger he will sob like a child. These people can bear pain much better than Europeans, but owing to want of self-control they make more fuss. Naturally impulsive and huffy, they respond readily to tactful handing  On the whole they are grateful for benefits. Their moral sense is  fairly well-developed. They readily distinguish between right and wrong. In money affairs they are close, and the more wealthy are mean. They spend little,  and except at weddings care nothing for show. Even the rich wear dirty clothes  lest they should be thought too well off. …………………….

A widespread cholera epidemic in 1867, while diminishing  the  number of  ordinary  patients, gave  the  Medical Mission the opportunity of helping the cholera-stricken. When Dr Elmslie laid down his work in 1869, he had achieved much. The opposition of the State authorities overcome  the confidence had been, to a considerable extent, of the Kashmiris had been won, and an immense amount of relief had been afforded to sufferers. Four Kashmiris had become Christians. One of these for many years continued to render faithful service in Kashmir as a Christian teacher. As an indirect result of the work of the Medical Mission, the first Kashmir State Dispensary had been started. And this was the forerunner of the present extensive State Medical Service…………

                  Dr Theodore Maxwell, who was Elmslie’s successor, was fortunate in meeting with a very friendly reception from the Maharajah Ranbir Singh, who, hearing that Maxwell was a nephew of General John Nicholson of Delhi fame, promised to grant good house accommodation. The work was reopened in 1874 under favourable conditions. Official opposition was  withdrawn. The State medical officer was friendly. The Maharajah granted a site for a hospital,  and at State expense a small building was erected on the north side of the Rustum Gaddi Hill………

                  From 1877-1879 Kashmir was limited by an appalling famine. In some parts of the valley, including Srinagar, it  is  said that the population was reduced by more than a half. Heavy rain fell  in the autumn, before the crops were gathered in. The rice and maize which arc the staple foods rotted. During the winter, rain continued. The cattle died from want of food. The spring harvest failed owing to bad weather. The authorities made a fatal mistake and ordered a house-to-house search for seed-grain, which the cultivators had stored for spring use. Believing, probably with good reason, that this grain would be confiscated by tyrannous and absolutely unprincipled officials, the people consumed the seed-grain themselves, or by hiding it in damp places they so damaged it  that it was no longer available for sowing. As a result, the  famine continued until  October 1879. Oil-cake, rice, chaff, the bark of the elm and yew, and even grasses and roots were eagerly devoured by the  starving people, who became absolutely demoralized and like  ravenous beasts, each struggling for his own life.The corpses of those who had perished were left lying or hastily dragged to the nearest well or hole, until these became choked with dead bodies. Dogs wandered about in troops preying upon the unburied carcasses  Pestilence dogged the steps of want and cholera broke out. Everything combined to intensify the disaster. Many officials in high places proved apathetic, or worse still, for selfish purposes, aided and abetted in keeping up prices, and even  intercepting the grain which was being sent in over rough mountain tracks for the relief of the dying.

                Quoting Dr A Neve, ‘Of recent years the completion of the  Jhelum Valley Road and the greatly increased traffic  to and from India have unfortunately made outbreaks of  cholera more frequent. In  twenty  years  there  have  been  five  serious epidemics with at least  forty thousand deaths. The fatal years were 1888, 1892, 1900, 1907 and 1910. Before the year 1900, however, a supply of pure water had been laid on to most parts of the city,  and thousands of lives were saved thereby. In 1888 and 1892 Srinagar was a City of Dreadful Death.” We are looking from the bows of our matroofed boat for the first sight of Srinagar, the so-called Venice of the East…’

               Until the introduction of general vaccination, practically the whole population  of  Kashmir contracted smallpox in childhood. The mortality was appalling. From this and other causes fifty per cent, of the children of Kashmir are said to die in infancy. I often wish the opponents of vaccination could be present in our consulting room to see the melancholy procession, day by day, of those who have lost their sight from smallpox.  For this disease is the most frequent cause of total incurable blindness. Like many other towns with large rivers, Srinagar, in a marvelous way, escaped having plague in a severe form. There was, however, a sharp epidemic in 1903. A man died immediately after his  arrival in the mail-cart from India. His body was buried  in  quicklime. His  friends  secretly exhumed the corpse in order to re-inter it near a sacred shrine. They were attacked and the  disease  spread rapidly. It assumed the pneumonic form. And curiously enough there was no  associated  rat  mortality. The authorities  took vigorous measures, at first burning down all plague-infected houses.They were, however, compelled to abandon this, owing to popular opposition. The disease gradually died out, after lingering with singular persistence in some isolated villages near the Wular Lake.The mortality, all  through, was terrible—over 95 per cent. Kashmiris, who were under European influence, were willing to submit to prophylactic inoculation. No European was attacked by plague.’

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