Tuesday, May 31, 2005

When the city was plagued by disease

When the city was plagued by disease
The Hindu

The early 20th Century Bangalore was witness to the spread of bubonic plague. It was accompanied by many superstitions

In August 1898, bubonic plague claimed its first victim in Bangalore in spite of various preventive measures taken by the Government of Mysore. The Epidemic Disease Regulation Act was passed, by which it was an offence not to report to the Municipal authorities cases of plague that occurred in households or neighbourhoods by the citizens.

The Municipality was given powers to get inhabitants of a premises vacated temporarily to disinfect the building and to even demolish any building, if in their opinion, it was necessary to prevent the spread of plague.

Bathing carriages

Passengers from infected areas coming by railways were inspected at Yeshwantpur, Kengeri and Cantonment railway stations. The City railway station set apart a number of carriages for bathing purposes insisting on every passenger taking a bath before leaving the station. Warm water and bathing compartments for different castes were provided.

From October 1, 1898, disinfection of outgoing passengers was also started. No passenger was given a railway ticket unless he or she tendered a certificate of disinfection or of exemption from disinfection. Disinfection was carried out at the railway station by steaming clothes and by having passengers wash their feet and hands with a disinfectant solution. To watch arrivals by road, eight outposts, each manned by a daffedar and four constables, were posted on all the important roads leading into Bangalore city.

The city was divided into four wards each being placed under a responsible officer of a grade not lower than that of an Assistant Commissioner assisted by a medical officer. Daily inspection of each house with a view to ascertain all arrivals and departures, illness and death were made. At burial and cremation grounds in Bangalore city, policemen were posted to register every funeral and to ascertain the cause of death.

Measures taken by the government included evacuation and segregation, supply of shed material to the poor free of cost and to others at nominal price. Government officials willing to camp out were given an advance of a month's pay not exceeding Rs. 30 repayable in three monthly instalments. Suitable sites for putting up sheds and necessary arrangements for conservancy, lighting and general sanitation of the health camp were made. Police protection was extended during their stay at the camps. The public was allowed to deposit valuables in public treasuries during the period.

Inoculation of Haffkine prophylactic serum was encouraged and the total number of inoculations in Bangalore up to June 30, 1899, was 36,259. Rewards at a rate of four annas for every adult and two annas for every child inoculated among the labouring classes were made.

The reward for killing rats was increased from six annas to 12 annas a dozen. Telephone lines were laid to help co-ordinate anti plague operations. In the Cantonment area, leading personalities of various communities encouraged inoculation especially among the labour class, by offering grains, sweetmeat, fruits, bread and clothes to all those who came forward.

A large number of people left the city for their respective villages and other places owing to the circulation reports on forcible inoculation of Haffkines serum.

It was the fear of inoculation and segregation that prompted people to desert their homes. They feared their houses being defiled by disinfection and the segregation and detention of the person concerned in case he or she were reported to have been afflicted by plague. They would extend shelter to the patient till he or she died probably without any medical treatment.

If a stranger was seen around the place, the person was believed to be one among the inoculators and people either mobbed the person, ran away, or attacked him.


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