It was in 2013 that a function was held at Government Medical College Srinagar where Dr Gulzar Mufti's book "Kashmir in Sickness and in Health" was released. Dr Mufti had personally invited me to that function and gifted me a copy of the book expecting its review. My apologies for taking so long to do the needful, never knowing that the review can be done in times of pandemic when the relevance of the book has hugely increased. Dr Mufti - a proud Kashmiri is working as consultant Urological surgeon in England. He had his MBBS degree from Medical College Srinagar and had the privilege of being one among the first batch of students. The book essentially deals with history of health care system in Kashmir but the author has not escaped from the temptation of coloring it with political developments in Kashmir. Dr Mufti states that writing about health and sickness without looking into political health is like looking at the earth without examining the sky.
Dr Mufti examines the history of death and disease in Kashmir and explains different epidemics that have consumed thousands of lives in Kashmir. His own maternal grandmother lost her husband to what Kashmiris call "Wobah" in 1923. The author has deep appreciation for British missionary doctors who stood like rock to cure the people. Cholera had been the major killer. In the 19th century alone there were ten epidemics of the killer disease. During the epidemic of 1892 Sir Walter Lawrence found all business stopped and the only shops which remained open were those selling the white cloth. Smallpox took a heavy toll of the population and Dr Mufti writes that a census of students from the CMS High School Srinagar in 1930s showed that only one percent had escaped the smallpox. The three Ts – Typhus, Typhoid and Tuberculosis also brought death and destruction. Eye, skin and bone infections were common. There were according to author 133 Lepers in the valley in 1890 and Lunacy too was common Mufti notes that in 1891-92 the life expectancy (census of 1891-92) for males in rural and urban areas was 21 and 22 years respectively. The corresponding figures for females was 19 and 20 years. The author states that the demographic structure of the valley would have been different had all these epidemics not struck at different intervals.
Dr Mufti gives due credit to the British for introducing western concept of Allopathic Medicine in Kashmir but found their inability to understand the native interface between what Kashmiris even today note as 'dhawa and dua' (medicine and prayer). But a note of caution needs to be inserted that it is not in Kashmir alone that we locate such an interface as claimed by Dr Mufti. We find this interface prevalent in many parts of the world. This is also in vogue in large parts of Indian sub-continent. In Bangladesh local people even today prefer native health practices though the country has emerged as a medical knowledge hub. Be that as it may as a doctor working in England Dr Mufti does not find any rationale in many cure practices particularly the diet jargon classified as 'Garm and Sard' in practice in the valley. During childhood days of Dr Mufti the role of health care was divided among specialists or traders. These were hakim (physician), the dhirke-gor (leach applier), the wattan-gor (bone setter), the waren ( midwife), and the naevid (barber). So were there Pir Sahib and Goar Maharaj respectively. Dr Gulzar Mufti estimates that there were in 1895 around 300 recognized hakims in the valley. Likewise, there were by 1895 around 75 warens in Kashmir .Similarly around 1900 barbers were found in 1895.The author attests to the fact that in UK too in the 18th century surgeons were barbers. The naval surgeons in the Napoleonic wars were barber -surgeons who combined surgery like amputations with their main job of being barbers for the fighting force.
According to Dr Mufti hundred years before the first batch of medical students qualified from Srinagar Medical College, British missionaries had established their network geared to healing with preaching. However , the empirical evidence suggests that their mission got accomplished more with healing than with preaching and contemporary medical practioners and social scientists will have to recognize it. Be it health care or education missionaries were at the forefront in rendering their services to people who were called as 'dumb drive cattle'. Dr Elms lie founder of Allopathic medicine in Kashmir was known to kashmiris as Padre Dr Sahib .He was followed by Dr Maxwell who established Drugjan hospital. After some time the mission got 'Nev' brothers as doctors .Dr Arthur Nev found the splendid position of Drugjan hospital at the mountain edge and its fresh air helping pulmonary tuberculosis patients. Currently it works as chest diseases hospital and more importantly the Covid-19 Centre. Dr Gulzar Mufti delves into what he calls as' Farangi Raj'. This Raj had its 'Mission Kashmir' with distinctive marks of identification. Tyndale Biscoe school with its motto: 'In all things be men' reflected the founders vision and personality make-up. Miss Malison is equally a pioneer in early educational transformation of Kashmir. When it was rumored that she was to bequeath her skeleton remains to the school and students had objected showing their emotional outburst. Miss Mallensin reportedly said :' May you learn from me even when I am no more. My bones teach you physiology''. Dr Mufti brings in another interesting aspect in his narrative by highlighting how Kashmiri doctors now living or dead in England have chosen that country as their next home(Dr GM Din, Tariq Nazki, Gh Geelani Drabu). They are in some way gifting back what missionary doctors had earlier given to Kashmir. The impression one gets after reading the book is that Kashmir then and now can be classic case of what in present parlance is called as educational and medical tourist destination if its political misfortunes are diligently negotiated. The author has at many places referred to these misfortunes and much of that is also in public domain. It is important to note people from Yarkand, Xinjiang, Nepal and many other places would visit Kashmir for getting treatment in mission hospitals. It is equally noteworthy that former slain President of Afghanistan Mohammad Najib-Ullah was an alumni of St. Joseph School Baramullah. Earlier during an academic conference in Pakistan's Lahore University of Management Sciences, former National Security Advisor of General Musharf , Mehmod Durrani narrated to me his memories of student days at Srinagar convent school before the partition took place.
After 1947 the health care and services expanded and the first milestone was the establishment of Srinagar Medical College. Further two young Kashmiri Obstetrics and Gynecology specialists, Dr Jahan Aara Naqshbandi and Dr Girja Dhar came on the scene to give a push to medical education considering the position of female patients. Both had their training in UK. The author places on record the services of Dr Naseer and Dr Ali Jan. It was during Dr Nasser's stewardship that Srinagar Medical college got recognition as the fourth best college in India. The establishment of Sher-I-Kashmir Institute of medical sciences gave a further push to Kashmir health care and American pattern of medical education got recognition compared to what was in vogue in England. It was in American medical framework that super specialization evolved much earlier than in England.
By way of conclusion it can be safely stated that the book authored by Dr Mufti should be an essential reading not only for medical students but for people working in health administration and liberal social sciences as well. The author has made a huge contribution as a medical researcher and his frequent travels to his homeland definitely have enriched his observation and understanding of systems. The book has been published by Partridge : A Penguin company.
Prof Gull Wani is teaching political Science at Kashmir university