The History of Healthcare in Kashmir

The history of modern health care in the pre-independence era in Kashmir is synonymous with the efforts of Christian missionaries. While their motives were admittedly of a missionary nature and their attitude mostly contemptous towards local faiths and customs, yet the pioneering role of the members of the Kashmir Medical Mission cannot be denied.

The first modern hospital in Kashmir was the Mission Hospital at Drugjan. In 2017, I had the privilege to serve as the Medical Superintendent of this hospital, nowadays known as the Government Chest Diseases Hospital. During my research to establish the history of healthcare in Kashmir I came across some rare images which I am sharing here.

Dr William Jackson Elmslie (1832–72)

Dr. William J. Elmslie, the first medical missionary appointed by the Kashmir Medical Mission in 1865 was unable to obtain accommodation due to strong official and public opposition to the missionary component of his medical activities. With typically Scottish derring-do he managed to examine and treat thousands of patients in a single tent which served both as OPD and IPD!

Dr. Elmslie’s successor, Dr. Theodore Maxwell, was politically well-connected and was able to ensure that official opposition was withdrawn. Maharaja Pratap Singh granted the Kashmir Medical Mission land for a hospital at Drugjan on the Rustam Garhi hill.

This image titled ‘Dispensary Tent of the Cashmere Medical Mission’ depicts Dr. Robert Maxwell in Kashmir in 1874. Note the sign at the left of the image.

By means of personal contributions and donations from friends in England, Dr. Edmund Downes erected the first buildings of the Mission Hospital at Drugjan.

Patients recuperating in the upper verandah of the ward named after Dr. Downes.

The Neve Family, notably Dr. Arthur Neve, Dr. Ernest Neve and their sister Ms Nora Neve (Superintendent of Nurses) performed stellar services at the Mission Hospital and in the field. Dr. Arthur Neve was awarded the Kaiser-i-Hind Gold Medal in 1901.

The caption states that ‘These extensive buildings, on a terrace 250 yards long, were erected by the Brothers Neve between 1888 and 1896, at a cost of approximately £15,000, without any Government or other grant’.

Dr Arthur Neve and hospital staff with patients at the Mission Hospital in 1882.

A field health camp being conducted by Dr. Arthur Neve. Note the dispensary table at the right of the image.

It was not uncommon for patients to be transported by boats.

The never-say-die missionary zeal burned as brightly in female medical missionaries as in their male counterparts.

In May 1888, Dr. Fanny Butler, the first female medical missionary in India, started a dispensary in Srinagar city called the “Zenana Shifa Khana” under the aegis of the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society (CEZMS).

Nursing activities were championed by the likes of the indefatigable Irene Petrie who gave up a life of luxury in England to endure hardships in Kashmir, and Elizabeth Mary Newman who was bestowed the title of the ‘Florence Nightingale of Kashmir’ by Tyndale-Biscoe for her work at the CEZMS Hospital. She recieved a Kaisar-e-Hind Silver Medal for her services to the hospital.

The first Church of England Zenana Missionary Society (CEZMS) Hospital was established at Rainawari in 1908. This building was demolished a few years ago to build a shopping complex. (So much for heritage preservation.)

The foundation stone of CE Zenana Missionary Society Hospital at Rainawari was laid by C.E. Tyndale Biscoe on 17th October 1908.

In 1891 the Maharajah of Kashmir donated land and money for setting up a Visitors Cottage Hospital at the foot hills of the Shankaracharya Hill so white people would not have to suffer in the company of natives.

The Visitors Cottage Hospital is nowadays called the Kashmir Nursing Home and I am currently on my second stint as its Medical Superintendent.

Franciscan Missionaries of Mary treating patients at Baramulla in 1921.

Dr. Noel Fletcher examining patients at John Bishop Memorial Hospital at Anantnag in the 1950s.

One positive spin-off of the activities of the medical missionaries was that they prompted the Maharaja of Kashmir to set up the State healthcare services.

The foundation stone of the State Hospital (SMHS) was laid by the Marquess of Linlithgow, the Viceroy of India in 1940 at the estate of the Hadow Mills Carpet Factory. This is the reason why the hospital is known colloquially as Hadwun (Hadow’s) Hospital even today.

The first medical college in Jammu & Kashmir started functioning at Hazuri Bagh on the banks of the Jhelum at the site of the present Lal Ded Hospital in 1959. The Government Medical College Srinagar was inaugurated at its present day location in Karan Nagar by Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, Prime Minister of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, in 1961.

The first batch of GMC Srinagar.

Students at GMC Srinagar in the 1970’s.

Click this link for a primer on the History of Healthcare in Kashmir [PDF]