Many fears and misconceptions

Cultural Divide & Plague

While on paper, segregation of suspected plague victims was the best practice, it could not be implemented.

Families did not want to be separated. Caste and privacy of women were obstacles. Further, the cultural divide put fear and hatred for the English in the minds of the locals. In a bid to avoid segregation, people buried the dead in the backyard or worse still, threw bodies in front of a neighbour’s home. Many migrated to the nearby villages, thus spreading the infection to rural areas. Dr Leela narrates a few separate incidents across Mysore State.

One of them is the unfortunate story of Hayaghreevacharya, a priest in Dharwad. On the day of his father’s shraddha (a ritual associated with death), an English Health Inspector allowed a low-caste labourer to “disinfect the puja room.” The same evening, the priest committed suicide. Such cases alienated the common man further away from the rulers.

There were also widespread rumours that England planned to sacrifice 7,00,000 people to their God to stop the plague. Added to the woes of the government were the labour class who maintained the hospitals and buried the dead. Understaffed and overworked, they went on strike.

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