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Issue #9: In 100 years, India’s response to a pandemic hasn’t changed much

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India Ink
Issue #9: In 100 years, India’s response to a pandemic hasn’t changed much
By India Ink Team • Issue #9 • View online
Hello everyone,
Over the last few months, there has been a lot of discussion over government mismanagement of the second wave of the pandemic. This week, we bring you a paper that discusses how the colonial government mishandled a pandemic as well – the Spanish Flu. Based on media reports from the time, it’s clear that despite a century passing, some things have not changed.
We’re also busy working on our next video which is going to be all about wealth and inequality under colonialism and how that translates to today. The script is about finished and we’ll be moving into production soon. We’re also researching the next video already so hopefully July will be a good month for those who have been asking us for more content!
Thanks for all your support,
India Ink Team

In 100 years, India’s response to a pandemic hasn’t changed much
  1. In the beginning of the summer of 1918, Indian newspapers announced that a deadly new disease, the “Spanish Flu,” was spreading rapidly across the world. By June, it had arrived in Bombay, which quickly became “a huge incubator of the germs of the disease.” By the time it reached the rest of the country, the disease was popularly known as “Bombay Fever”.
  2. The flu’s advent in Bombay can be traced back to a military ship which arrived from Iraq on 4 June 1918. Most of the ship’s crew were suffering from an unknown illness, but the harbour health officer did not report this. By the time he did inform the authorities on 26 June, the disease had already spread rapidly among Bombay’s working classes.
  3. Initially, the Health Department of Bombay did not take the disease seriously. It declared that the infection was nothing more than the seasonal influenza virus that affected people every year. Meanwhile the flu began to spread beyond the city: within a week, it had reached as far as Delhi, Meerut, and Shimla and by August it had become widespread in Punjab and the United Provinces
  4. The second wave of the pandemic, which started in September 1918, hit even harder. “Never within the memory of the oldest man living in Bombay has this city witnessed so many people stricken down with fever and so many of them dying in a helpless condition,” reported the newspaper Gujarati on 6 October 1918.
  5. Spreading outward from Bombay, the pandemic blitzed through most of India’s major northern and western cities. However, caught between the flu and the famine it had caused, it was India’s villages that were the worst-hit. By one estimate, 12-13 million people had died within a few months.
  6. Not only was the administration unprepared for the pandemic, it also seemed to have no plan for providing medical or food aid once the crisis had set in. It seemed to have abandoned the people to their fate. In Bombay presidency, the overwhelmed colonial government simply packed up and moved to the hills.
  7. British neglect of India’s sanitation and healthcare needs was systematic and long-standing. A government report published in January 1918 revealed that the issue of sanitation in the villages had been under consideration for 39 years, with no action taken. The British justified this inaction using the convenient excuse that Indians were “resistant to change.”
  8. The native press played a crucial role in this crisis. Newspapers not only brought to light the suffering of millions, but also strongly attacked the government for its inaction, leading to eventual changes in policy.
  9. With most doctors away on war duty, whatever relief efforts the government and charitable institutions managed to arrange were limited and mostly ineffective. By the admission of a senior military doctor, the medicines the government began handing out had almost zero effect on the disease. Eventually, the flu subsided.
  10. The 1918 pandemic offers important lessons for today’s world. It reveals how disasters can expose the apathy of governments, colonial or not, that do not value the welfare of all citizens. It also shows how civic institutions like the press are often the only hope to shame them into action.
(If you’d like to learn more, click the link below and read all the extra information under each of these points and see the paper that we used a source.)
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India Ink Team

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