Printer Friendly Page


We must give credit to the United States for giving him the kinds of facilities to work not previously given to any Indian. But there is another side to the story that must be told. Let me quote from the biography, In Quest of Panacea, some bits that show how politics operate in the world:

"SubbaRow's admission to the U.S. and his stay there for a quarter of a century was possible because he went there as 'a physician' and qualified himself as a 'chemist' two of the professions that were exempt from the ban on immigration of Indians in force from 1917."

The Supreme Court ruled that Hindus were not Caucasians and the President excluded from American citizenship even those Indians who had been legal immigrants and had met the minimum residence requirement.

"Although he could get his 'student' visa, originally valid for two years, periodically extended because he belonged to the excepted category, 'he was always mortally afraid . . . that he might be picked up for some minor infraction of the law and be shipped back to India . . . Then came the Second World War and the Alien Registration Act of 1940. SubbaRow had always to carry from then on a card bearing his right thumb impression, signature and registered number (3420564) testifying to his status as an 'alien', one of the 3896 East Indians on the Registry. And he had to report his address every three months to the Department of Justice in Washington.

“In 1942, he had to get special clearance because his position as Director of Research at Lederle was considered sensitive in view of his supervision of the processing of blood albumin for supply to the Navy and of the research on tetanus and gas gangrene toxoid that was of interest to the Army and the Navy. The clearance was given after a declaration by his company that it 'never had any reason to doubt his devotion and allegiance to the United States' and a thorough investigation was made of his record both at Boston and at Pearl River."

The New Republic fulminated in 1943 against the notion that natives of India like SubbaRow and other world-renowned scientists then playing valuable roles in USA in helping to win the War were unfit for American citizenship that was 'freely granted to the most backward and ignorant Balkan peasant'. That year a number of bills were introduced in the Senate and the House of Representatives for lifting the citizenship bar on Indians. One of them reached the statute book in July 1946.

SubbaRow wished to shed the stigma of being an 'alien' amidst people with whom he had lived 25 years and had thrown his lot, but it took a year for him to get the ruling of the Immigration and Naturalization Service that he had been admitted legally into the United States. He spread the good news among his associates but he did not in the next twelve months he lived file his 'Declaration of Intention' the necessary first step to get the American citizenship.

SubbaRow felt within he was an Indian and he died an Indian.

When he died on August 8, 1948, obituaries appeared in Science, New York Times, New York Herald-Tribune and newspapers and journals in many parts of the world. The Herald-Tribune called him 'one of the most eminent medical minds of the Century'.

Yellapragada SubbaRow was not born great; his mother had to sell the little jewellery she possessed to provide for his education. Nor was greatness thrust upon him. He achieved greatness by imagination, self-confidence, love of fellow humans and an inner compulsion to alleviate human suffering. And he did what no other Indian had ever done till then on foreign soil: he made some of the most important and seminal contributions that were destined to transform a whole range of basic and applied sciences and save innumerable human lives. If there were a Nobel Prize for those who died virtually unknown but whose accomplishments lit the path of many who came later, SubbaRow would surely be among the first to receive it.

Even today in our country very few people know of him. The efforts of the Centenary Committee succeeded in getting the government issue a stamp in his honour in 1995. But he has not been given the appropriate recognition by the nation till today. We have given the Bharat Ratna posthumously to others. Why not to Yellapragada SubbaRow?

Dr Pushpa Mitra Bhargava, formerly Director of CCMB the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, heads ANVESHNA the sicence consultancy in Hyderabad.

1 2 3

(c) Evelyn Publishers, This Website is dedicated to Dr Yellapragada SubbaRow whose contribution to human well being is unparalled