Delhi artists uncover ‘historic racism’ in provision of mental health care during first world war
A group of leading Indian artists, in Britain to help commemorate the end of the first world war, says it has uncovered evidence of historic racism involving the care of soldiers traumatised by their experiences.
Combatants from the Indian subcontinent, along with many of those from what were then described as “lower social orders”, were not officially recognised as suffering from shell shock – a syndrome that is now covered by the term post-traumatic stress disorder, they say.
The artists, from Delhi and known as Raqs Media Collective, said that original documents uncovered in the British Library revealed that the armed forces systematically neglected to treat psychological problems among Indian soldiers.
Shuddhabrata Sengupta of Raqs, who are creating an artwork in Colchester commissioned by the arts body 14-18 Now for the Essex town’s Firstsite arts venue, said that British commanding officers appeared to use both class and race to ration mental health care during recuperation periods. “The condition of shell shock was first diagnosed in 1915 by the English doctor Charles Meyers,” said Sengupta. “But documents we found in the British Library show Meyers quickly dropped the term because it was feared ordinary soldiers would find it easy to understand and so would ask to be seen by medics.
“Instead Meyers suggested a more opaque diagnosis of NYD, or Not Yet Diagnosed – Nervous, which ordinary soldiers would find harder to use.”