The advent of modern health care in pre-independence Kashmir is synonymous with Christian missionary activities. We are indebted to Walter R. Lawrence, the famous Settlement Commissioner for detailing the traditional treatment methods before the advent of the missionaries. The following is an excerpt from his ‘The Valley of Kashmir’ published in 1895.
Even now the mass of the people believe in their own doctors, many of whom are men of considerable ability and experience. There are 300 Hakims or doctors in Kashmir, and as a rule the profession is hereditary. Their system is based on the Greek system of medicine, and I have known cases in which some of my subordinates have derived great benefit from the skill of the Kashmiri Hakim. The Hakims have a considerable knowledge of herbs, and their herb-collectors are the shepherds, who spend the summer on the high mountains where the most valued plants are found. The Hakim charges a wealthy patient eight annas a visit, but he makes some money by compounding medicines.
The Hakim does not dabble in surgery. He will mark with a pen the vein which is to be opened, but a barber must be called in to operate. There are over 1,900 barbers in the valley. If leeches are to be applied a special man is sent for.
Such samples as the Hakim does not obtain from the shepherds are bought from the druggists, of whom there are 159 in Kashmir. The Hakim never attends midwifery cases; special women, of whom there are seventy-four; dispose of these cases.
Besides the professional Hakims, there are many wise women ‘ in the villages who have considerable knowledge of the properties of herbs, and it is a remarkable fact that nearly every peasant seems to know something about the medicinal powers of plants. The sovereign remedy of the Hakims for all very serious cases is the chob-i-chin (Smilax China), a kind of root brought from China and administered internally.
The people believe greatly in the efficacy of amulets given by Pirs. They cure all diseases. The amulet is either fastened on the right arm, neck or turban, or is put in water and the water and ink of the writing drunk by the patient, or is burnt and the smoke inhaled by the sick man. This inhalation brings dreams, and the dreams must be told to the Pir; who at once knows what is to be done. The chief principle in the treatment of the Pir fraternity is that illness is caused by evil spirits, and that a talisman suitably prepared, with the name of the patient’s mother on it, will drive out any devil. “
It was this scenario that existed before western treatment concepts were introduced in Kashmir by the medical missionaries.
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