I was seconded to the Centre for Historical Studies at Jawaharhal Nehru University in New Delhi. This was my second visit to the university – having given a paper at the ‘Ireland-India-Asia: entangled histories and cultural processes’ conference held at JNU in October 2013. It was good to be back at JNU (if the prospect of living in New Delhi was a little daunting!). I had been challenged in my work through interactions with both staff and postgraduate students during my first visit and I hoped to expand upon this.
I attended weekly seminars at the Centre for Historical Studies from October to December. The content of the lectures – ranging from ‘medical tourism’ to ‘translation in Mizoram’ to ‘the architecture of Delhi’ – were enlightening and expanded my comparatively limited though expanding knowledge of India. The seminars allowed me too to interact with the student body within JNU – they are a politically motivated, inspiring and friendly group!
Throughout my time in Delhi, I was based predominately at the National Archives of India and the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (see pictures below)
Here too I met students from JNU, the University of Delhi and Cambridge University. My friendships with fellow students was so imperative – we were able to swap advice on how to persuade archivists to look up records, fast-track photocopying and for the much needed and addictive cup of chai!
My research at the NMML focused upon newspapers, particularly publications from the states of Bengal, Bihar and Jharkand. I was investigating whether the local press recorded reactions from local populations to the influx of western missionaries and western ideas, predominately of health, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. My research investigates the role of Irish medical missionaries in advocating western medicine in rural India – in an area which today lies in the state of Jharkand. The aim of my research in Delhi was to investigate whether local populations reacted negatively or positively to western ideas of health, whether the local populations experienced any sort of trauma because of conflict arising from dominant western ideas and how the culture of local populations was perhaps altered through interaction with western medical practitioners. I was able to locate and examine a number of newspapers dating from the 1890s to the 1930s, and created a trajectory of changing attitudes to ideas of western health in India. Situated in the grounds of Nehru’s former residence, the NMML is an inspiring place. Daily lectures by academics, politicians and social campaigners conveyed how the space is used for a myriad of functions. It has a motivating environment – despite the fact that us researchers were kicked out at 2pm one afternoon as Prime Minister Modi was coming to visit!
At the National Archives of India, a very friendly archivist who had remembered my name from my previous visit in November 2014, was able to help me pinpoint government records, detailing the reaction of the British Government in India to the advent of missionaries to India and the role of those missionaries in education and healthcare. The NAI is too an interesting location. Hoards of – I’m told – biting monkeys roam the compound waiting for any lunch leftovers! Luckily I managed to avoid either having my lunch stolen or a trip to the hospital for a tetanus injection!
While in India, I also had the chance to visit a hospital which Irish missionaries established in Chota Nagpur, Jharkand. After much deliberation about my trip (predominately due to the rise of Maoist threats in Jharkand!), I decided to go and see for myself! It was a little surreal to visit a place I’ve only read about in hundred-plus year old texts, yet so enlightening to meet staff who were able to tell me how the hospital was administered in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. The experience was a little disheartening too as the hospital today faces many similar problems to that which I read about in archival sources – staffing shortage, inadequate equipment and mistrust from the local community.
During my time in Delhi, I was able to meet some lovely, friendly people who helped me live life in Delhi, testing my boundaries through our shared experiences of exploring the chaotic Old Delhi (I know Delhites who don’t go there!) or tasting some delicious local cuisine!
My time in Delhi was so fruitful – studying in Delhi was a challenging experience, both professionally and personally.