Internationalist spirit of Dr Kotnis continues to enlighten India-China friendship

Primary school pupils pay their respects in front of a statue of Dwarkanath Kotnis at the North China Military Martyrs Cemetery in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, in 2018. (ZHAI YUJIA / CHINA NEWS SERVICE)

Today, the 111st birthday of a noble and exemplary Indian medic is celebrated in both India and the People’s Republic of China.

Dr Dwarkanath Shantaram Kotnis was a native of the State of Maharashtra, a relatively prosperous province of western India, but he is a more revered and distinguished figure in China than in his home country. China has not forgotten Dr Kotnis for his heroic and selfless deeds rendered to its wounded soldiers after he had been sent to the country in 1938 as part of an Indian medical mission in assistance against Japanese aggressors. 

Dr Dwarkanath Shantaram Kotnis was a frontline doctor whose extraordinary surgical skills and supreme dedication to the mission he was pursuing saved the lives of many Chinese soldiers

Kotnis was a frontline doctor whose extraordinary surgical skills and supreme dedication to the mission he was pursuing saved the lives of many Chinese soldiers. 

The Indian doctor, also known as Ke Dihua in Chinese, worked incredibly hard. It is reported that in 1940, Dr Kotnis, who was also known as “Dr Thoughtful” and “Old Ke” – a special way Chinese people fondly describe their “true” friends, reportedly performed surgeries for up to 72 hours and treated more than 800 patients in 13 days.

“The army has lost of a helping hand, the nation a friend. Let us always bear in mind his international spirit,” China’s late leader Mao Zedong said while offering a glowing tribute upon his death in 1942.

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More than eight decades after his passing, China’s love and respect remain as deep and defining. 

In fact, Chinese leaders have made it a point to meet Kotnis’ kin every time in their visits. Such high-profile visits not only demonstrate China’s reverence for someone who cared for them in times of extreme distress, they also serve as a glorious symbol of a shared history of anti-imperial and colonial struggles no matter how the two countries have disputed over certain sensitive matters.

The visits by top Chinese leaders also point to China’s readiness to recall their share history – of values, culture, and most importantly, trade and commerce, from time immemorial. 

Indian doctor Dwarkanath Shantaram Kotnis in the 1940s in China.  (FILE PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)

Importantly, ties between the world’s two most ancient civilizations have enormous implications, because at stake are the lives and future of more than 2.7 billion people. If they work together, they can work wonders – not only for their own peoples, but also for their neighbors such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Nepal etc. 

Their historical ties, cultural resonance, economic power and human resources are things that have the potential to set a huge benchmark hitherto unseen. India and China share many common interests, and also have huge potential for economic and trade cooperation and people-to-people exchanges.

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While China has seen its GDP rise 12.7 percent year-on-year and achieved scientific and technological breakthroughs, the Indian economy grew 20 percent from April to June. The volume of trade between the two Asian giants hit a record high with a year-on-year increase of 62.7 percent in the first half of 2021 despite the downturn caused by the effects, after-effects and side-effects of the COVID-19.

This shows the resilience of the two countries. And it is time to work together – harder and smarter – toward promoting and strengthening economic cooperation. That’s an imperative for the greater good of the peoples of the two countries. 

Strengthening people-to-people and cultural exchanges, working to deepen and sinking differences will be the route to prosperity and peaceful coexistence for the two countries.

“When India and China shake hands, the world notices,” the comment made by India’s former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, an economist of repute, after his meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in 2013, is worth recalling.

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In this context, it is our historic duty to promote and popularize the noble and heroic thoughts and deeds of Dr Kotnis whose legacy is too powerful, impactful and enduring to be ignored.

The author is a freelance journalist for China Daily based in Calcutta, India.