On 10th March, 1934, Nabakumar Singh Dudhoria, a representative of Calcutta, raised the issue of German doctors practising in India in the Central Legislative Assembly. Actually, he had taken up the issue following the All-India Medical Council’s objection of allowing the German doctors to practise in India.
According to the native dentists and doctors, the medical profession was already overcrowded and letting European doctors to practice would be an attack on the interests of Indian medical fraternity. The members of the assembly were divided over the issue.
The reason behind this furore was Hitler and his Nazi regime. Since 1933, German Jews had been taking refuge in other countries including India. In 1934, A.W Rosenfeld and A Lesser formed a Jewish Relief Association (JRA) to help the penniless Jews arriving in India.
Among these refugees a few were doctors. In fact, there were less than ten German doctors practising in India, all in Bombay, when the issue was raised by the All-India Medical Council (AIMC) and hence members of the assembly.
All-India Medical Council passed a resolution urging the government to limit the practice of medicine to the Indian doctors and stop Germans practicing in India. Even the government was bewildered by the fact that less than ten doctors could threaten the whole medical community in India.
Newspapers at that time reported, as the reason of this anxiety among native doctors, that the German doctors were attracting more patients because “their method of examination, taking medical history, personal interest and time taken for each, scrupulous concern for fact and detail, cooperation of the various doctors who confer together to get a correct diagnosis, and the prominent position occupied by Germany in the medical world.” So even a few of them were posing a threat to the Indian doctors.
AIMC reiterated the demand of a ban on German refugee doctors again in 1938. They argued that the principle of reciprocity, since Indian doctors were not allowed to practice in Germany therefore Germans should not be allowed in India, demanded that medical practice of the German doctors be banned.
Manu Subedar raised this issue, in 1939, in the legislative assembly. He asked why the government was not sending the German Jews back. At this time forty-two German doctors were practicing in India thus ‘threatening’ the entire Indian medical community.
The press led by Bombay Chronicle, Free Press Journal and Bombay Sentinel demanded that any ban on German doctors would be against the Indian culture of welcoming the people in distress and providing them shelter. They argued that it would be inhuman to not allow these doctors to practice when they were forced out of their countries by the Nazi regime.
The German Jewish doctors kept practicing in India till the end of the War and returned after the defeat of Hitler. Yet, this episode reflects upon the problems refugees had to face.
(Author is a well known historian)