When plague struck Mysore State

When plague struck Mysore State

The Province of Mysore underwent severe stress and strain, caused by extreme famine or drought situations. Like famine, plague also had its impact on Princely Mysore.

The railways helped in carrying plague germ from the neighbouring Bombay Presidency. It travelled from Hubli in Madras-and-Southern-Maratha-Railway (MSM) via Harihara, Arasikere, Tumkur to reach Bangalore. Plague, an epidemic, first appeared at Bangalore pete on 12th August, 1898. Later, it spread to Kolar, Tumkur and Mysore districts.

Back then, plague was considered the most notorious disease caused by infection from pests (Yersinia) carried by fleas. The Mysore Plague was different from
“Bubonic Plague” of 14th Century Europe, because its only epicentre was Bangalore pete. The old town of Bangalore was choked with congestion, without proper amenities and dwellings. Even the transportation hub, the railway station, was sandwiched between dirt, filth and slum-like habitation. Hence, the epidemic spread slowly and hit the other parts of Mysore.

The government had passed the Epidemic Diseases Regulation Act on 11 February, 1897. Accordingly, rules were framed from time to time. Several pre-cautionary measures were implemented to meet eventual exigencies. Among them were establishment of inspection stations and centres, examination of passengers travelling in railways and also by road, establishing temporary examining centres and enforcement of special sanitary improvements in towns and villages.

To implement these and oversee the supervision, a special officer, designated as Plague Commissioner, was appointed. The Government also spent money from Provincial funds, and also from Municipal funds. The Government had implemented prompt evacuation, encouraged exterminating rodents, publicised methods of proper sanitation and ventilation, and even assigned cash rewards for taking such measures.

The severity of the disease was felt more during the months from September to
December, 1898. Stray cases, here and there, were reported from other districts from January to March, 1899. The most badly affected was Bangalore district: there were 14,831 attacks and 12,273 deaths. In Bangalore city alone, it was 3,346 and 2,665, respectively, and in Mysore city, it stood at 2,667 and 2,171. Plague corpses were later carried, at the cost of the Government, to be buried or burnt. Death certificates were issued without delay. A registration of death was also maintained. All these figures and facts were official and endorsed by the then
officiating Diwan, TRA Chetty.

Patients were provided treatments in separate hospitals, dedicated solely for plague victims. Separate plague camps were set up to provide accommodation to those who have symptoms and to those persons living in infested areas. In Bangalore town, a large number of houses, considered unfit for habitation, were demolished. Congested portions were removed. New areas were opened.

Sanitation was given priority. A systematic process of disinfection was carried out in houses that weren’t demolished.Two large extensions covering 1,000 acres, each, to provide space for 50,000 people to live, were laid out in Bangalore city. In rural and moffusil towns, timber and bamboos were supplied free of cost to poor class to help them build shed or camp.

The Government also sanctioned advance one-year salaries to its workers, to help build their houses in new localities and extensions. Much care was taken to protect Kolar Gold Fields. However, the Diwan maintained, “The repressive measures of Government enforced at the commencement of the Plague have every where proved unsuccessful and most repugnant to the feelings and prejudices of the people, producing great panic and frightful mortality.”

On 17 October, 1899, the Diwan made the following observation in his address delivered at Dasara Session of Mysore Representative Assembly: It was on
12th August, 1898, and in the city of Bangalore, that the plague first made its appearance in the State.

The exact manner in which the disease was conveyed to Bangalore has not been satisfactorily traced, though there is good ground for believing that its importation was in someway due to its prevalence in an epidemic form at Hubli and other stations on the Southern Maratha Railway. Among whose coolies it first occurred, and to the families and friends of whose employees it was for sometime in close proximity to the railway goods-shed at Bangalore and then to the other parts  of the city.

When the disease once gained a foothold in the Bangalore city, it soon spread with
increasing virulence in every direction, passing rapidly into the civil and military station and the rest of the Bangalore district and then into the Mysore city and the Mysore and Kolar districts and parts of the Tumkur district. The only districts that were altogether free of indigenous case were Shimoga, Hassan, Kadur and
Chitaldurg.

The plague did not spare the Maharaja and his family either. The whole family was quarantined and shifted. They stayed at Jaganmohan Palace which was then used as a girls’ school. The family spent the Dasara in Jaganmohan Palace and the rituals were all conducted there.

On 5 September, 1900, the Government issued a lengthy Memoranda Of Procedure to be followed, mandatorily, during this quarantine: It is understood that during the 10 days ceremony their Highness the Maharani Regent and the Maharaja will live in the Jaganmohan, however, living practically separately in that part of the Palace now used as a girls school.

It is also understood that till the commencement of the ceremonies, that is till the beginning of Dasara and till Her Highness goes to stay in the Jaganmohan Palace, Her Highness will reside at the Upper Residency and the servants she proposes to bring with her into Jaganmohan shall be practically in quarantine at the Upper Residency from the time of Her Highness arrival in Mysore till she goes into the Jaganmohan Palace.

In order that this quarantine should be really effective it is necessary that the servants should on no account go to the bazaar. A small bazaar should be erected for them beside the Upper Residency (Maharani the Regents stay of palace).

Moreover, a responsible officer should ascertain every night that all the servants are in their proper quarters at the Upper Residency by say 9 pm and that they are still there next morning say at 6 am. Interestingly, the memo also mentioned “Servants’ dress should, on all occasions, be scrupulously clean and their persons daily washed” in block letters.

The memo demanded that a list of the servants be sent to the doctor, that the servants should not leave Jaganmohan Palace till the last day’s ceremony, that no other person should be admitted within the precincts of the Palace, without a pass,  during the ceremony, that the guards at the gate be changed regularly. Royal
measures for the royalty!

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