Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Professor Waltraud Ernst was presented with the Bhatia medal at St John's Research Institute at Bangalore, India, after delivering the Major General S. L. Memorial Oration 2013

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Sohan Lal Bhatia (1891-1982) made eminent contributions to clinical research in physiology, the development of science, and the re-constitution of the Indian medical services prior to Independence and during decolonisation. He had been trained in medicine at Cambridge University, under the later Nobel Laureate, A.V. Hill. Bhatia became Professor of Physiology and the first Indian Dean of Grant Medical College, Bombay and was appointed Deputy Director General of the Indian Medical Service. After Independence, he helped build up health services across India, as Inspector and Surgeon General in Madras, Hyderabad, Bombay and Assam. Bhatia published widely, including on the history of Indian medicine and, following his retirement, he sponsored inter-cultural activities and encouraged academic work that bridged the boundaries between science and the humanities. Professor Ernst’s memorial lecture focused on another Indian pioneer of medicine on the Subcontinent, Lieutenant Colonial J.E. Dhunjibhoy - a psychiatrist and superintendent of the largest mental hospital in India from 1925 to 1940.  He was the first Indian in charge of a prominent and modern psychiatric institution. Dhunjibhoy visited numerous psychiatric establishments in North America and Europe during the 1920s and 1930s and corresponded with the most innovative clinicians of the period. According to Professor Ernst, the case of this senior psychiatrist highlights that in the minds of Indian psychiatrists such as Dhunjibhoy psychological medicine was a global, scientific venture rather than a specialist field that derived its impetus exclusively from the colonial metropolis and British blueprint. It also shows that old colonial attitudes towards Indians continued to prevail during the period of Indianisation and that Dhunjibhoy’s generation of Indian senior medical officers worked within a socially, politically and professionally difficult context.