Being a South Asian doctor in the UK brings pride and sadness

by Anil Jain

Artefacts in British museums brought there from India will return to their place of origin one day, hopes one doctor

Location: International
Published: Monday 8 August 2022
Anil Jain 2

I grew up in post-partition India. I heard stories of the severe effects of it throughout my childhood.

Indian independence on 15 August 1947 was marred by partition, leading to communal riots and mass migration. A lot of these migrants were accommodated in colonies in Delhi. As a child, I noticed India was left with poor infrastructure, limited resources and hardly any foreign currency reserve. There was a shortage of practically everything, including food, water and electricity. We were relying on aid from the UN and other countries.

But as India had been part of the British empire – all Indians were British citizens prior to independence, and Indian currency had pictures of Queen Victoria or King George – it became clear to me that India’s diamonds, precious metals and raw materials were taken to fund British textile factories and mills, and decorate the UK’s palaces. Very little was invested by the British Government in India’s infrastructure.

There was another big problem: I had heard the princely estates in pre-partition India were in perpetual conflict, and this was exploited by the East India Company. History classes at school covered India’s struggle for freedom, and to some extent this united Indians after partition and helped them forge their own destiny.

anil jain school photo Dr Jain's school photo

As a child, I moved from a small village in northern India to Delhi. In Delhi I grew up amidst a shortage of all necessities, jobs and simmering political conflict.

But I did well at school and was the first in my family to go to medical school in 1978, qualifying in 1982. All my medical education used familiar textbooks from the UK and USA. Many of my teachers had further training in the UK before returning to India. This encouraged me to consider coming to the UK for my further career development. A similar approach was taken by my peers.  

In March 1989, I came to the UK to take my PLAB (professional and linguistic assessments board) exam. Thankfully I passed, and started undertaking honorary/locum jobs initially, followed by a substantive radiology registrar post.

There were some challenges: cold weather, little availability of vegetarian food choices, and getting used to the Scottish accent. I was very fortunate that overall, colleagues were very supportive. I got married in 1991; my wife joined me from India and pursued her training in ophthalmology. I moved to Manchester in 1993 for my senior registrar post, was appointed to a consultant post in 1994, and my wife became a consultant in 2002.

As an IMG (international medical graduate), it was quite a long acculturation phase for me – getting used to people, the weather, food, etc. During holidays I visited tourist sites including the Tower of London, Holyrood Palace and the V&A museum. I was shocked to find so many arts and artefacts from India in museums, including the world-famous Kohinoor diamond, which reminded me of colonial rule. I very much hope that in due course most of these items will be returned to India, where they belong.

anil jain awards Dr Jain at an awards ceremony (third from right)
First Tirthankara Rishabhanatha A sculpture of the First Tirthankara Rishabhanatha at the Victoria and Albert Museum (credit: Sailko/Wikimedia Commons)

When my children were growing up, I was disappointed to see there was nothing in their school textbooks about South Asian history, India’s freedom struggle and sacrifices made by Indians during the First and Second World Wars. I firmly believe these should be taught to our children as it will fill that vacuum and help improve understanding of the struggles faced and sacrifices made by Indians during the British Raj.

We must also celebrate that many of our children have gone into medicine and other allied professions, and are serving the NHS. I am proud that, like my wife and me, my son is also serving the NHS as a junior doctor.

In the last two decades, my wider work has been focused on addressing health inequalities and supporting our ethnic minority, disabled and IMG doctors. I lead an Asian breast cancer support group, which I set up in 2011. I was shocked by the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world. I am immensely proud to have undertaken some fundraising for the APNA NHS COVID India appeal last year.

I hope that with stories such as mine, we will be able to raise awareness during South Asian Heritage Month, and generate even greater interest in Britain’s colonial past, India’s freedom struggle, independence and partition, and the unique contributions South Asian people have made to the UK. Our rich South Asian heritage is for all to celebrate.

Anil Jain is a consultant radiologist in Manchester, a member of BMA council, BMA consultants committee and equality, diversity and inclusion advisory group