The Assam Chronicle

News and Views from Northeast India

BW Medical School in Ruins

Universally recognized as the cradle of modern medical education in North East India, the heritage John Berry white medical school established here in 1900 now stand in ruins.

In 1858, Dr John Berry White, a British philanthropist surgeon had arrived in Assam to work under the erstwhile East India Company during the British rule in India. He was the pioneer of medical education in North East india. For long 24 years, White served in upper Assam in different capacities and left his foot prints in all spheres of developmental activities of this region. He had also contributed towards the tea, coal and oil industries and establishment of rail and road communications in Assam. 

After his retirement as civil surgeon of Lakhimpur district in 1882 his dream of establishing a medical school in this part of the region took shape. White contributed his whole life savings of rupees fifty thousand, considered a princely sum at that time, for the establishment of the medical school in Dibrugarh.

The medical college hospital began functioning from an abandoned military hospital set up by the US army during World War II at Barbari in Dibrugarh town. The establishment of the Berry White Medical School not only heralded the beginning of allopathic medical education in Assam, but also paved the way for the subsequent establishment of the Assam Medical College in 1947, through a process of upgradation, thus gaining the distinction of being the first medical college in the entire northeastern region. However, the piece of history which shaped the future of medical education in this part of the country now lies utterly neglected. A cursory glance will reveal that the Assam type 12-room building is crumbling and falling apart for want of maintenance.

As the district administration and the civil society have shown no interest to preserve the old heritage of the city the building has become a favourite spot for gamblers and antisocial elements.

It is learnt that a few year ago the state Directorate of Archaeology has embarked upon an ambitious plan to preserve the old building of the Berry white medical school but it has not take off till now.

According to information, a few years ago an amount of Rs 1 crore was sanctioned by the government for dismantling the building. It was decided that a replica would be made in its place but four years have passed without any progress. “We have asked the archeological department to restore the building. We are waiting for their reply,’’ said Aruna Rajoria, DC, Dibrugarh. She added that experts will be needed to restore the heritage building and give its original form and very shortly government will take a decision.

“Dr John Berry White was pioneer of medical school in entire northeast and he has established the medical school with modern techniques. I urge the concerned department to take immediate step and preserve the heritage building to keep alive the memory of Berry White,’’ said Dr Ahmedullah Khan.

Nabajyoti Borkakoty, social activist of Dibrugarh, said, “The building should be preserved. Apart from that a regional medical museum for Northeast India should be established in Dibrugarh’’.

“There are many buildings which are hundreds of years old. There will be some way to preserve those old buildings,’’ said Ram Krishna Das, a senior citizen. He said the administration should take step to preserve the building for the coming generation because they should know the importance of the heritage building and the contribution of Dr John Berry White for the citizens of Dibrugarh.

“It is one of the oldest buildings of Dibrugarh town. A few years ago the chief minister has sanctioned funds for the preservation of the building but till now no steps for its preservation has been taken,’’ said Satyabrata Sarma, General Secretary of Dibrugarh Bar Association. He said the indifferent and callous attitude of the government towards this heritage building has once again proved the apathy of the state department.