Chuni Lal Katial was a doctor and politician. He moved to England in 1927 after graduating with a medical degree from Lahore University and working for five years with the Indian Medical Service in Iraq. He resigned his position to continue his training in public health. He studied in Liverpool and gained a diploma in tropical medicine. He later became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine. On moving to London Katial established his own practice, first in Canning Town and later in Finsbury, attending mainly to working-class patients. He was a member of the Indian Social Club and the Indian Medical Association, and was involved with the Hindu Association of Europe.
He became heavily involved with the India League and was a supporter of Krishna Menon. During the second Round Table Conference in Autumn 1931, he put himself at the disposal of Gandhi, arranging meetings and effectively becoming his chauffeur. The meeting between Charlie Chaplin and Gandhi took place at his house.
He won a seat for Labour on Finsbury Borough Council in 1934 and served as Deputy Mayor from 1936 to 1938. He became the first South Asian mayor in 1938, a position he held until 1939. In 1946, he was elected to the London County Council to represent the borough. His work as Chairman of Finsbury’s public health committee had the most wide-reaching impact, with Katial being a driving force for the creation of a health centre for the borough, which opened in 1938. It concentrated under one roof a number of services and health provisions for the borough’s population, such as doctors’ surgeries, a TB clinic, a dentist and a women’s clinic. It was a trailblazer for similar provisions which formed an integral part of the National Heath Service, created in 1948.
During the Second World War, Katial worked as a civil defence medical officer and chaired the air raid precautions medical service and food control committee. He also provided training in first aid for the St John’s Ambulance Brigade. For his services to the borough he was made a freeman of Finsbury in 1948. The same year he returned to India and worked as Director-General of the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation of India until 1953. He returned to London in the 1970s and died in Putney in 1978.