|Plague in Bombay 1896 near Pune The Indian Express|
More than a century ago smallpox, plague, typhoid, etc., were dreaded diseases and the medical technology was not well developed to handle them well. Nor were there tested medicines to cure them.
As part of the global 3rd plague pandemic that affected many countries in 1896-97, Pune, Maharastra (then Bombay Presidency) was struck by Bubonic plague. The epidemic was raging without any remedy in sight. By the end of February 1897, the epidemic was so bad and horrible, the mortality rate jumped far beyond the established norm - almost double the normal rate. In 26 days of February 1897, there were 657 deaths (0.6% of the city's population). Part of the reason attributed was the natives refused to cooperate. They would rather die from plague than move out of the city like nomadic tribes with their possessions left behind in their home. At last,driven by fear of the epidemic half of the city's population moved out to safer places. Part of the city, now, became a ghost town.
The British Raj formed a Special Plague Committee headed by W. C. Rand, an Indian Civil Services officer, by way of a government order dated 8 March 1897. The purpose was to prevent the spread of the plague epidemic and to eradicate it for good with jurisdiction over Pune city, its suburbs and Pune cantonment. The Bombay Presidency under governor's direction assured the public that no Muslim and high caste Hindu women be examined and no quarters would be entered except by women. The serious measures were taken by the government for their own good. Orders included respect of caste and religious practices of the people.
Under command of a Major Paget of the Durham Light Infantry on 12 March 1897, 893 officers and men – both British and native – were ordered to go ahead with their plague duty to deal with an urgent situation, developing in the city. The drastic measures they followed while on duty included the following, in contrast to what the Governor's orders had mentioned,
01. Forced entry into private houses, 02. Forced stripping and examination of occupants (including women) by British officers in public, 03. Forced evacuation to hospitals and segregation camps, 04. Removal and destruction of personal possessions. It is said Hindu idols included, 05. Restrictions and prevention of moving out of the city, 06. The occupants of the house or building were required by the Plague committee to immediately report to the government about deaths or illness suspected to have been caused by plague, 07. Funerals were declared unlawful, if not, properly registered, 08. The committee had an absolute right to mark special funeral grounds for funeral services to the corpses suspected to have died from plague. Absolutely, people should not use the unmarked funeral ghats in violation of government restrictions. 09. Violation of such emergency measures or disobedience will subject the offender to criminal prosecution.
Soon after this humiliating and insulting search by the troops under Major Paget, the people of Pune were furious over the oppressive and humiliating measures taken by the British officials in contrary to the Governor's assurance. Chairman Rand remained unmoved, not responding to countless complaints received from various cross sections of the communities. This careless and discriminatory attitude of Rand and other Bobs towards Indian natives made the people more incensed because the officers were not sensitive to the objections raised by the people.
In the meanwhile, after the plague duty by the troops was over, The Plague committee's deliberations completed on 19 May 1896. The report pointed out that the total people died from plague was around 2091. Rand on his report to the government expressed his satisfaction and mentioned that the tradition and customs of the people had been given due consideration and there were no complaints about insults to the modesty of Indian women.
The British India's distorted version of its plague report and their continued denial angered one section of freedom fighters who were disappointed about their being dishonest and lethargic in this serious matter.
Damodar Hari Chapekar (1870-1898), Balkrishna Hari Chapekar (1873-1899, and Vasudeo Hari Chapekar (1879-1899 ), commonly called Chapekar brothers were Indian freedom fighters. They decided to put an end to the British officials who insulted the Indian natives and humiliated their traditions publicly. On 22 June 1897, the Chapekar brothers with two accomplices assassinated
W. C. Rand, the British plague commissioner of Pune and his escort Liet. Ayerst. On 8 May 1899 after a court trial, the brothers were hanged to death.