Caste and Ethnic Separation

Upon completion of the transformation of the Pavilion to a hospital, a committee composed of Native Officers representative of every caste was put together under a retired Indian Army veteran, Colonel Coates, C.B., as its President. [1] This committee had the duty to approve all of the arrangements made so far each group of patients in the hospital and report to the Commanding Officer.

The caste system in India is a system of social stratification and social restrictions thousands of years old based on Brahminical religious texts that has been the cultural cornerstone of India's Hindu majority. Caste based beliefs strictly defined daily life in a Hindu village. Its practices of 'untouchables' or 'contamination' eventually made their way into the structure of the British Indian Army itself. In India the military hospitals set up by the British mostly dealt with only the one or more classes of Indians belonging to the particular district of which the hospital was situated [2]

At Brighton the British felt that all of India was watching how the soldiers were being treated in England and with the memory of the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny still fresh in their minds the British wanted to ensure that no small misunderstanding in the care of their wounded Indian soldiers become a destabilization catalyst in India as the events that led up to the 1857 Mutiny had been. Because of this fear the British authorities seem to have gone to extremes to put in place and follow the Hindu cultural model of caste and ‘untouchability’ and ‘contamination’ at the Brighton hospitals in order to placate India’s Hindu majority. In essence they managed the Brighton hospitals as if they were a large Hindu village in India.

Hospital wards at the Royal Pavilion Hospital were segregated with patients in the different wards grouped according to tribe or caste and Indian attendants of similar castes to the patients in each ward. [3] Even the two sitting rooms on the first floor of the Pavilion provided for ranking Indian officers were segregated with one reserved for Sikh and Hindu patients and another for Muslim patients. [4]

In keeping with the strict Hindu caste system, so called ‘Untouchables’ were employed by the British authorities as support staff, housed separately they were responsible for the lowly duties of sweeping and washing clothes at the Pavilion hospital. [5] Toilet facilities and laundry services were also strictly segregated.

Although a valid case can be made for separating the preparation and storage of meats and vegetables in separate kitchens in order to cater to both vegetarian, non-vegetarian and Muslim halal meat eating patients, at the Royal Pavilion Hospital things went even further. The Hindu soldiers refused to even eat food that had been touched by British orderlies [6] as it would be 'contaminated'. Thus the British went to extremes, setting up nine separate kitchens with different caste cooking staff at each. The British even installed separate plumbing with separately labeled water taps – one for use by Sikhs and Hindus and another water system for use by Muslims. [7] Signs in Gurmukhi, Urdu and Hindi were posted on the kitchen doors proclaiming that no one was allowed to enter any of the kitchens except the specified caste cooking staff. [8] An action taken in order to avoid ‘contaminating’ the food.

Grand Forks Sun (Canada) December 17, 1915
In order to prevent the different castes from "losing caste" eight different kinds of diet have to be prepared, and there are separate sets of cookhouses for six different classes of men.

Food was only cooked and dispersed by attendants to patients of the same caste and patients even kept and washed their own eating utensils, to avoid so called ‘contamination’ from being touched or cleaned by someone from another caste. [9] Milk from the hospital diary was wheeled to the wards in special cans, each painted with the name of a different caste. These specially marked milk cans could only be handed out by milk attendants of the same caste as their patients drinking the milk. [10]

Footnotes

1. A Short History In English, Gurmukhi & Urdu of the Royal Pavilion Brighton and a Description of it as A Hospital for Indian Soldiers (Corporation of Brighton, 1915)  9

2. Ibid. 5

3. Ibid. 8

4. Ibid. 12

5. Joyce Collins, Dr Brightons Indian Patients December 1914 - January 1916 (Brighton Books, 1997) 21

6. Mark Harrison, Disease, Discipline and Dissent: The Indian Army in France and England, 1914-1915. in: Roger Cooter, Harrison Mark, Sturdy Steve, eds Medicine and Modern Warfare (Rodopi B.V., Amsterdam, 1999) 190

7. A Short History In English, Gurmukhi & Urdu of the Royal Pavilion Brighton and a Description of it as A Hospital for Indian Soldiers (Corporation of Brighton, 1915) 8

8. Ibid. 8

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.