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Saggar, Jainti Dass (1898–1954), medical practitioner and politician, was born on 6 September 1898 in Deharru, Ludhiana district, Punjab, British India, the second son and fourth of the six children of Hindu parents, Ram Saran Dass Saggar (1870–1943), merchant, and his wife, Sardhi Devi Uppal (1873–1960). Educated at Lahore Medical College, he travelled to Scotland in 1919 to study medicine at University College Dundee, then part of the University of St Andrews. He entered medical school in 1920 at third-year level, before graduating in 1923. He later went on to take diplomas in public health in 1925, and ophthalmic medicine and surgery in 1935.

In 1925 Saggar established his medical practice first at 8 Byron Street, Hilltown, a working-class area of Dundee, and later at his own house, Ahimsa, 26 Byron Street, moving to Ahimsa, 89 Clepington Road, in 1951. He was perhaps the only Asian resident in Dundee when he started his practice. He succeeded in winning his patients' trust and became a respected and popular doctor. A kind and compassionate man, he often gave his services free to the poor and the unemployed. A member of the British Medical Practitioners' Union, he was a staunch supporter of union principles. On 16 May 1931 he married Jane Boyd (Jean) Quinn (1902–1985), a boot shop assistant, and daughter of Thomas Quinn, an insurance agent prominent in Labour politics, briefly a town councillor after the Second World War, and subsequently a baillie. Despite Saggar's longstanding friendship with the Quinn family, Jean's Catholic father was initially opposed to their marriage. The Saggars had two daughters, Jean Susheila (b. 1932) and Kamala Marguerite (b. 1939).

A socialist, passionately interested in politics, Saggar joined the Labour Party. It was his concern for the underprivileged, and the poverty, ill health, and poor housing that he encountered as a doctor, that spurred him into an active political career in addition to his medical practice. In 1936 he stood as a Labour councillor for the marginal Ward 8. Topping the poll, he became Scotland's first elected Asian councillor, his popularity confirmed by the fact that he represented Ward 8 for the rest of his life. In 1939 he turned down the opportunity to be a parliamentary candidate, preferring to remain a councillor. In 1954, following Jean's election, they became the first husband and wife team on the council.

As a councillor, Saggar devoted an increasing amount of his leisure time to public service. He was secretary of the Dundee town council Labour group, chairman of the public libraries committee, and a member of the general committee of the local branch of the Nursery Schools Association of Great Britain. Education and health remained his main concerns. A senior member of the education committee by virtue of continuous service since his election in 1936, Saggar never flagged in his drive to secure a full education for all. Labelled an idealist, he made persistent attempts to lower the pass mark threshold for admission into the academies to 50%, giving John R. Mason, The Courier and Advertiser cartoonist, much scope for ridicule. His strenuous efforts as convenor of the further education subcommittee gave Dundee the new Trades College at 1a West Bell Street, which in 1965 metamorphosed into Kingsway Technical College, with a more extensive curriculum, at Old Glamis Road.

As convenor of the public health committee, Saggar was instrumental in modernizing Maryfield Hospital, providing electro-cardiograms, bronchoscopes, and high-powered X-ray machines for the diagnosis and treatment of patients. He passionately believed that the health of the citizen was the state's responsibility. During the 1947 municipal elections he boldly proclaimed ‘equality and not privilege, needs not status’ to be the guiding principles of Labour health policy (Dundee Labour Election Pictorial, 1). He was also credited with the introduction of a ‘penny fare’ for old age pensioners on Dundee corporation transport. Following the creation of the NHS in 1948 he was appointed a member of both the Eastern Regional Hospital Board and the board of management of Dundee general hospitals.

Committed to the movement for Indian independence, Saggar was a founder member of the Dundee branch of the Friends of India and a frequent speaker at its monthly meetings held at Ahimsa. Established in 1934, the Friends of India aimed to organize public opinion in favour of Indian self-determination and to ‘make known the significance of Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent movement as a moral equivalent for war’ (Friends of India, Dundee branch, minute, 5 September 1934). In answer to the TUC's call for funds to support Basque refugee children in Britain following the bombing of Guernica in 1937, he donated money to maintain one child for six months and contributed a case of medical supplies and drugs for Spain.

For recreation Saggar played tennis and badminton and was a cricket enthusiast. A family man, he had a wide circle of friends that included trade unionists and clergymen. As a councillor he was remembered for his sincerity, charm and politeness, winning him affection from all sides. A man of wide reading, he was influenced by Gandhi and by Tagore's writings, but Shaw's complete plays travelled everywhere with him.

Jainti Saggar died at the Royal Infirmary, Dundee, of a cerebral haemorrhage on 14 November 1954. He was cremated at Dundee crematorium. In 1985, after Jean's death, the casket containing Jainti's ashes was interred within her coffin at Balgay cemetery. Their headstone bears the word ‘ahimsa’ at its base, epitomizing his philosophy. The significance of his achievements and service was best summarized in the words of the lord provost of Dundee, William Hughes: ‘He came to Dundee from halfway across the world, but no son of Dundee had greater love for its people or worked harder in their interests’ (The Courier and Advertiser, 15 November 1954). In 1960 Dundee council renamed Greenbank Rise Saggar Street in his memory. The family medical tradition was continued in Dundee by his youngest brother, Dhani Ram Saggar (1906–1973); by his nephew, Karam Dev Saggar (1925–2009), who took over the Byron Street surgery in 1955; and by his elder daughter, Jean Susheila Jamieson.

Rozina Visram

Sources  

Dundee trades and labour council, minute, 30 June 1937; Dundee corporation education committee, 18 Feb 1941, art. 11; Dundee corporation education committee, 16 Nov 1954, art. 1, tribute; Dundee corporation, 2 Dec 1954, art. 1, tribute; Dundee corporation works (roads) committee, 15 Feb 1960, art. 17, Dundee archives · The Courier and Advertiser [Dundee] (8 March 1941); (15 Nov 1954) · Dundee Labour Election Pictorial, 1 (Nov 1947) · Friends of India, Dundee branch, minutes, recorded by Dhani Ram Saggar, priv. coll. · J. Murray and D. Stockdale, The miles tae Dundee: stories of a city and its people (1990) · R. Visram, Asians in Britain: four hundred years of history (2002) · private information (2012) [Jean Susheila Jamieson, daughter; Kamala Stewart, daughter; John Stewart, son-in-law] · m. cert. · d. cert.

Likenesses  

group photograph, 1919, repro. in B. Kay, The Dundee book: an anthology of living in the city (1990), 58 · photograph, 1931, repro. in Murray and Stockdale, The miles, frontispiece · photograph, repro. in Dundee labour year book, 2, 36 · photographs, private collection · portrait, repro. in The Courier and Advertiser (15 Nov 1954)