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(This is the third and final article of a three-part series)
Soon after the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms of 1919, the Justice Party, which formed the provincial government for Madras Presidency in November 1920, faced various challenges. But the impact of many initiatives it took, which continue to drive the upliftment of the socially disadvantaged, are a testament to its excellence.
Not all the challenges it faced came from outside; conflicts within its ranks, too, caused problems.
The Montagu-Chelmsford reforms in the medical sector brought public health services, medical education and medical facilities under the direct responsibility of the provincial government. This led to the setting up of new medical colleges, new curricula and many new hospitals.
Around the same time, the non-cooperation movement and the Swadeshi movement of the Congress were creating a huge impact across the country. As with the other parts of the country, there was widespread popular support for the Congress under Gandhi’s leadership in the Madras Presidency, which was felt in the Madras Provincial Council as well.
Gandhi’s adverse view of modern medicine and the Swadeshi movement’s aim of boycotting foreign products led to modern medicine being widely identified as a foreign medical practice. It gave a new impetus to the advocates of Ayurvedic medicine. Subsequently, they also succeeded in establishing Ayurvedic medicine as an indigenous system, an alternative to foreign allopathy or modern medicine.
Following widespread demands, the British government had already appointed a commission under the chairmanship of Rao Bahadur Sir MC Koman, a civil surgeon, on July 12, 1918, to study the traditional medical systems throughout the country, examine their merits and demerits, and come up with a set of recommendations for the government. Sir Koman hailed from a fisherman family in Kerala. He got himself trained in modern medicine, and gradually worked up the ranks and was later awarded the title Rao Bahadur. He was the Chairman of the Madras Provincial Medical Council at the time when he was asked to head the commission.
“Vernacular is to be the medium of instruction in all lower grades; in the higher grades, the question of using the classics or the vernacular as the medium may be left to be settled by the teaching staff in any particular institution or linguistic area
He started by reading the books on Ayurveda available in Malayalam, Tamil and English. He also met many Ayurvedic doctors and understood medicines and their manufacturing practices. He administered many of these medicines to his patients at the Madras General Hospital to test their efficacy.
The commission submitted its report to the government in 1919, recommending the addition of about 40 new traditional medicines to the British Pharmacopoeia (Indian pharmacopoeia was non-existent then) by the Madras Medical College. However, the report finally concluded that the scientific basis behind traditional medicine was unclear.
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“As for the practical portion of my work, I made it a point to visit the local Ayurvedic dispensaries as often as possible and to observe and note what was being done in those institutions. During these visits, I was able to gather information with regard to the methods adopted in the preparation of drugs and their compounds, methods of diagnosing diseases and also the various methods of treatment. The apparatuses which are used in the Ayurvedic pharmacies are all antiquated and require considerable modifications in the light of modern scientific knowledge…
“I have devoted my attention chiefly to studying the therapeutical actions of the drugs and of compound preparations in general use, which I have been able to collect. To make a pharmacological research into these, would require a well-equipped laboratory with a staff of duly-qualified and competent physiologists and chemists who have had a previous training in such work.”
Due to this, the Koman Commission incurred the wrath and anger of the proponents of Ayurvedic medicine, who rejected the findings. They started exerting renewed and increased pressure on the government to form a new committee consisting of experts in indigenous medical systems to re-examine the subject.
The newly established Justice Party government had universal healthcare as one of its primary aims. In general, there was a consensus within the provincial government to expand the reach of modern medicine across the region. However, a section within remained in favour of traditional indigenous medical practices. At that time, one of the prominent indigenous medical societies of Madras Presidency was supported by non-Brahmins. It advocated Siddha Medical System.
As a result of these internal conflicts, the new Madras Provincial government and its welfare objectives faced severe pressure and risk.
In addition to that, the British government agreed to set up a new committee to conduct a fresh examination of medical systems and practices. This panel was constituted under the chairmanship of Khan Sahib Sir Muhammad Usman, one of the prominent leaders of the Justice Party.
Born in a wealthy and influential feudal family in Thanjavur, he represented the Justice Party in the Madras Provincial Assembly in 1920. Later, he was also the Home Minister in Raja of Bobbili’s Justice Party government. When he resigned, Usman Sahib recommended AT Panneer Selvam to succeed him. Later, he was the chairman of the Madras Corporation and also a member of the Executive Council directly under the Governor of Madras Presidency. Usman road in Chennai is named after him.
Usman Sahib was a Unani medical practitioner (known as Hakeem). Though Usman Sahib was the chairman, the new committee’s real power lay with its secretary, an Ayurvedic scholar named G Srinivasamurti. He was supposed to be the head of the previous commission instead of Sir Koman. But Srinivasamurti could not even be part of it due to some unavoidable reasons at that time. So, this time he came into this new committee with a renewed sense of purpose. In politics, Srinivasamurti was from the exact opposite side of the Justice Party.
The report’s immediate recommendation to place Sanskrit as a subject under modern medicine was not implemented. It is clear that despite the internal contradictions of the Justice Party and the compromises made by the provincial government, it could manage to resist the demand
His importance as the secretary and his role in guiding it can be understood in the words of its chairman at the very beginning of the report of the committee.
“This report would not be complete if we do not place on record our high appreciation of the invaluable services rendered to the committee by the Secretary, G Srinivasamurti. He has given evidence of great ability, indefatigable energy, thorough grasp of the subject and sound judgment in the discharge of a delicate and difficult work which he had to do. His keen sense of fairness as a student of science has contributed not a little to his arriving at conclusions unbiased and impartial. We therefore take this opportunity of tendering our most grateful thanks to him.”
Srinivasamurti belonged to the Theosophical Society and was a close confidant of Annie Besant, who led the Indian Home Rule movement at that time. To understand the inherent contradiction between the Theosophists and Justice Party leaders, we need to understand the history a bit.
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The Indian Home Rule Movement was formed in 1916 by freedom movement leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, S Subramania Iyer, Satyendra Nath Bose, Annie Besant and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Its first league was founded by Tilak in Belgaum and the second by Annie Besant in Chennai. Although it initially attracted freedom fighters from both the Congress and the Muslim League, it gradually lost its importance after Gandhi entered the fold.
Annie Besant continued to lead the Theosophical Society, which advocated unified identity based on Tilak’s idea of pan-India Hindu culture and the caste-based Brahminical social system. The non-Brahmin movement, which started getting prominence in the Madras Presidency, was in direct conflict with this idea. This became acute when the Justice Party came to power.
Both Usman Sahib and Srinivasamurti contributed to the crisis. Before going into the political impact of this, it is necessary to consider the key aspects of the Usman Committee and its report. The starting lines of the report clearly spelt out its objective, the means by which the objective needed to be met, and who guided that objective.
“The declared objective of the government in ordering the present enquiry was “to afford the exponents of the Ayurvedic and Unani systems an opportunity to state their case fully in writing for scientific criticism, and to justify state encouragement of these systems…
“The first question that we addressed ourselves to was to decide whether the indigenous systems of medicine were scientific or not. The secretary furnished us with a memorandum reviewing this question in all its bearings and we agree in the main, with his two general conclusions vis., that, (1) from the standpoint of science, the Indian systems are strictly logical and scientific 2) from the standpoint of art, they are not self-sufficient at present, especially in the surgical line, though in the medical line, they are, generally speaking, quite efficient and economical.”
From the very beginning the purpose of this committee was to support indigenous medical practices. Though it was Initially said that Ayurveda, Unani, and Siddha medical systems were to be studied, Ayurveda took the lead in this committee. Reading the report, we learn that other methods like Siddha medicine are included only to strengthen the overall arguments supporting the objective. A deeper look at the structure of the two-part report further sharpens this conclusion.
The first part of the report presents its conclusions and the arguments presented in support of those conclusions. The second part documents the testimonies of practitioners and supporters of indigenous medicine as the documented evidence and as supporting data for the conclusion in the first part of the report.
For example, although the number of references provided in Tamil are greater than those provided in Sanskrit, a closer look reveals that those references in Tamil are either translations or quotations from Sanskrit texts on Ayurveda. Further, though these are in Tamil, they are not about Siddha, which is known as the Tamil system of medicine. This clearly shows that their purpose is to reinforce the evidence in Sanskrit. Furthermore, evidence provided for Unani medicine is also very sparse.
The following lines at the beginning of the first part of the report dispel any lingering doubt about whether other indigenous medical systems had been given equal importance as that of Ayurveda.
“For we have it on the high authority of Janab Hakim Ajmal Khan of Delhi that Arabian medicine was founded on Ayurveda and it is well known that the siddha and the Ayurveda have very many things in common including the Thridhatu physiology and the Thridosha Pathology.”
This is further reinforced when one refers G Srinivasamurti’s own book “Memorandum on the Science and the Art of Indian Medicine”, where he mentions the same point about the relationship between Siddha and Ayurveda.
Hence this raises an important question on how this report, which promotes importance of Sanskrit through the Ayurvedic system, could establish the scientific foundation behind of all these. A comparison of how data-based science is applied in modern medicine versus these traditional medical systems may shed some light on this question.
With allopathic medicine as the primary core of its medical and healthcare policy, the British government published formal documents and reports periodically since 1825. These reports listed public details on medical treatment methods, diseases treated, drugs used and status of those treated. Province-wise, and area-wise reports of various Medical Boards were also compiled year after year and were published regularly. They had also published their Asiatic Journal every six months, which compiled the important social activities and significant events happening in their provinces, listed by each department. This section also provides a lot of important information about the medical and healthcare system.
Even in the previous report by MC Koman’s Commission, there was detailed data about what kind of treatment, medicines were given against each type of disease with their detailed outcome.
In comparison to those reports above, the data contained in the Usman Committee report is seen to be ambiguous and incomplete. For example, the number of patients visiting each Ayurvedic treatment centre located only in major cities can be seen. Even from the meagre data they have given, we can understand that the number of those who have recovered is comparatively very small.
Apart from that, rest of the evidence given are in the form of hearsay and oral testimony. It can also be seen that all the evidence given thus highlight only Ayurveda system based on Sanskrit. Hence the report’s conclusions and the solutions it proposed comes to attention.
“Deputing young and promising graduates of Western and Indian medicine to study Indian and Western medicine respectively. They are to be first recruited into permanent government service on the pay and prospects of the corresponding members of the existing medical service and then sent on deputation…
If the question is whether there could have been a mandate on those preparing to become allopathy doctors to also clear Sanskrit exam, the answer is that the possibility was very much there if the committee’s report were to be implemented in full. The committee report had made Sanskrit competency mandatory, but the provincial government managed to exclude the demand of bringing Sanskrit into the allopathic curriculum
“Foundation of courses / chairs of Indian medicine in existing schools and colleges of Western medicine may be helpful in helping Western trained doctors to acquire a knowledge or essentials of Indian medicine; but that is not enough to ensure the progress of Indian medicine itself, any more than the institution of pundits and munshis in our arts colleges is enough to ensure the promotion of Oriental classics or vernaculars…
“At present instruction in Ayurveda and Unani are mostly carried on bi-lingually, while in the Siddha system it is mostly done through Tamil; the Ayurvedists generally make use of Sanskrit text-books, while the explanations are usually given in the vernacular of the locality; in the higher grades of study, even the explanations are given in Sanskrit, while in some institutions this practice is followed even in the lower grades…
“Vernacular is to be the medium of instruction in all lower grades; in the higher grades, the question of using the classics or the vernacular as the medium may be left to be settled by the teaching staff in any particular institution or linguistic area.
“To attain the object specified in the above paragraph, we think it necessary that the government should immediately establish colleges and schools, hospitals, and dispensaries for the Indian system of medicine. If the government finds it impossible to do so under the present conditions, we suggest, as an alternative, that the existing centres of European medical education and medical relief should be made to subserve the interests of Indian systems of medicine also.”
While the stated objective is to set up “Indian medical colleges” for indigenous medical practices, the report also focuses on the way to bring Sanskrit and Ayurveda into the modern medical curriculum.
As for modern medicine, many of its technical terms are based on Latin since its inception. There was even a period when Latin was included in its curriculum. It is in that context that the importance of their demand must be understood.
Finally, the committee submitted its report and the responsibility of implementing it came on the Provincial government.
Subsequently, the “School of Indian Medicine”, was flagged off on November 3, 1924, and finally opened on January 6, 1925, under the leadership of Srinivasamurti. It offered a four-year indigenous medicine course, at the end of which an LIM certificate was awarded.
But the report’s immediate recommendation to place Sanskrit as a subject under modern medicine was not implemented. It is clear that despite the internal contradictions of the Justice Party and the compromises made by the provincial government, it could manage to resist the demand.
As for whether Ki Aa Pe Viswanatham’s statement “they removed the need to have knowledge of Sanskrit to be eligible for medical degree” being about medical entrance, there is no such evidence found to substantiate such a claim.
But if the question is whether there could have been a mandate on those preparing to become allopathy doctors to also clear Sanskrit exam, the answer is that the possibility was very much there if the committee’s report were to be implemented in full. The committee report had made Sanskrit competency mandatory, but the provincial government managed to exclude the demand of bringing Sanskrit into the allopathic curriculum.
Hence we can conclude that what K Aa Pe meant would be to this effect.
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