Discover the story of an Indian immigrant who arrived in Scotland in 1919 and went on to became Dundee's first Asian City Councillor.

Links between the city of Dundee and the Indian sub-continent have been strong for well over a century. Many Scots from Dundee and Tayside moved to India to work in the important jute and tea industries. Today India is one of the largest generating countries of international students to Scotland’s universities. For one family however, the connections between India and Dundee have been especially personal and rewarding.  

Jainti Dass Saggar was among the first Indian students to arrive in Dundee. Born in Deharru in the Punjab region of northern India in 1898, Jainti arrived in Dundee in 1919 to study medicine at University College Dundee. He went on to become a respected GP in Dundee, as well as being elected as the city’s first Asian City Councillor. This step in the life of a pioneering young Indian man would be the start of a family relationship with Dundee which has fondly endured for four generations.

With the announcement of a Dundee University scholarship in his name, Jainti’s great-granddaughter Sarah Jamieson has been reflecting on his inspirational and lasting legacy.

A family legacy

Sarah is a trainee solicitor at an Edinburgh legal practice as well as a member of the Scottish Senior Women’s Hockey Squad. Born and raised in Edinburgh, Sarah made many family visits with her parents to their hometown of Dundee, so when the time came for her to attend university the University of Dundee seemed an ideal choice. She attended the University from 2012-2017, completing both an LLB Scots Law with Spanish, and a Diploma in Professional Legal Practice.

Sarah feels that the warm and open welcome her great-grandfather received in Scotland definitely influenced his decision to stay and practice in Scotland.

‘’He made a huge journey from Deharru in the Punjab to Dundee, which would have taken weeks, to study medicine. I think the opportunity brought him over, but the people and the place prompted his decision to stay’’ she says. ‘’By all accounts, he threw himself into Dundee and got just as much back from his patients and constituents. His election as a city councillor demonstrates the strong support he enjoyed in the city.’’

On his experiences of being one of the first Indian students to study in Scotland Sarah reflects: ‘’Dundee University attracts many students from all around the world, and studying alongside students from many different nations was my experience there, but when Jainti attended, being one of a few must have been strange, although he seems to have had very positive experiences. He would be delighted to hear there is now an Asian Students Society at the University!’’ 

Sarah feels that, over 100 years after his arrival in Scotland, there is much that her great-grandfather would be proud of today, though as a strong campaign for social justice and health equalities he would be continuing his campaign work.

‘’He was known for being ahead of his time as a supporter of mental health resources for all and would want to help ensure that care is available for everyone’’ says Sarah. ‘’He would be pleased to see that it’s a much more widely discussed topic and seen as an important issue of the Scotland of today.’’

She adds that as a strong supporter of the NHS, he would have been pleased to see it continuing, and stepping up to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic. Due to his campaign work as a vegetarian, one of very few at the time, he would also be happy to see that increased prevalence of vegetarianism and the focus on healthy eating in Scotland.

A home in Scotland

Commenting on her favourite things about Scotland, Sarah says ‘’I love the contrast of cities, landscapes and people that we have in a comparatively small country. I love that in almost every Scottish city you have everything you would want from city living: sights, museums, culture and nightlife, all whilst being a few minutes/hours from mountains, beaches and wildlife. I enjoy escaping to the Highlands when I can, and getting outdoors. Overall, the people are also what makes it great, and the pride that we all have in calling ourselves Scottish that brings us together.’’

She adds that Jainti would have been particularly proud to see all the developments in Dundee such as the V&A Museum of Design and the vibrant new Waterfront development. He would also be delighted to see the University thriving with students from all around the world and honoured that a Scholarship has been established in his name.

A member of Scotland Women’s Hockey Squad, Sarah says she never feels prouder than when she walks onto the hockey pitch to represent her country. ‘’The warm welcome that we receive as Scots wherever we go in the world, is amazing. It shows what a good reputation we enjoy across the world, and I think that comes from how welcome people feel when they visit Scotland.’’

She describes Scotland as a small country with a big personality that is full of surprises and contrasts, with welcoming people and landscapes that take your breath away. ‘’We are an easy-going country who enjoy the simple pleasures. Scotland has something for everyone, from the adventure seekers to music lovers. What’s not to love!’’ she says.  

Supporting the Community

Sarah often feels humbled to see what an impact Jainti had on Dundee in a relatively short period of time - something that has been proudly passed on to her by other family members through the generations. As Jainti died relatively young, most of what Sarah and her family know about him came from her grandma, Sushiela Saggar (later Jamieson), her great-aunt, Kamala Saggar (now Stewart) and Kamala’s husband John Stewart. She adds that she can’t imagine leaving as large a legacy as her great-grandfather, but hopes that she can make in impact by inspiring young people through her involvement in the national hockey squad, and delivering the high quality of service in her legal work which Jainti provided to his patients. 

While Sarah feels that Scotland is a diverse and welcoming country, she adds that there is are always steps we can all take to recognise and celebrate our multicultural background and celebrate the contributions that people from all races and nationalities/countries have made to Scotland. ‘’That is why I am so delighted that the University are recognising Jainti’s contribution in such a way’’ she says. ‘’I have seen, through Jainti’s story, just how much positive impact one new ‘immigrant’ can have on a city that welcomes them with open arms. They simply need to be given a chance. I would like to think that every newcomer to Scotland receives the same warm welcome and opportunity.’’  

She is very proud that the University has launched the scholarship in Jainti’s name. ‘’It’s great to see that his hard work and dedication to Dundee and Scotland is still being recognised and celebrated’’ she says. ‘’It is especially fitting that it is to help students in the same position as he was (albeit 100 years later and under very different circumstances). Moving halfway across the world is no small feat so anything that can help a student feel at home here is great. To be related to him is really special and we have all learned a lot from what he achieved. Both sides of the family have been very proud of the links to him, and to India. I can’t wait to visit one day.’’  

The University of Dundee’s Jainti Dass Saggar Memorial Scholarship for Excellence will be awarded to an Indian domiciled candidate with very strong academic potential and the desire to use their education to benefit the wider community.

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