Thursday, 15 February 2018

Pune plague 1896-97 and British atrocities

Plague in Bombay 1896 near Pune The Indian Express
The road to India's independence was riddle with a tough one. It was not that India got her freedom without blood-shed and violence. Though Gandhiji chose non-violence and civil dis obedience as a means to free the fetters on India, it did not yield the desired results as we all know. Then and there, in the early 18th and 19th century, violence against the British misrule did raise its ugly head whenever there were lapses in the administration.

 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 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 idolsincluded, 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 and 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 of 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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chapekar_brothers