In recent days, the new crown epidemic in India suddenly got out of control, and the number of confirmed cases continued to break every day. The resulting surge in deaths and open cremation of corpses shocked the world. However, this is not the first large-scale outbreak of plague in India. Because of natural and man-made disasters, this land of India has experienced terrible pandemics many times.
The 1918 flu: 17 million deaths
The pandemic that began to sweep the world in 18 years caused approximately 20-50 million deaths worldwide, far exceeding the death toll in the First World War. However, what few people know is that the place with the largest number of deaths from this pandemic is not Europe and the United States, which have been repeatedly mentioned in the media, but remote India.
At the beginning of the 20th century, India was a poor colony repeatedly plagued by plagues. The public health system has not yet been established. Not only has Western medicine not been widely available, but when most Indians get sick, they only resort to gods and indigenous Ayurvedic medicine. On May 29, 1918, when the First World War was about to end, a ship carrying the Indian Expeditionary Force arrived at the coast of Mumbai. It was not only filled with supplies brought back from the suzerain country, Britain, but also carrying a deadly influenza virus brought from Europe. Virus strain. In June 1918, the first flu patient appeared in Mumbai. Before long, flu epidemics broke out in western, northern and central India one after another.
The poor public health environment and unhealthy eating habits have exacerbated the spread of this pandemic. At that time, India’s cotton textile industry was developing rapidly. Mumbai, the center of India’s textile industry, attracted a large amount of cheap labor. Most of them are poor people of low caste in India. They usually live in overcrowded slums. Some people can only live in dirty alleys, stables and warehouses. The British Baron Dingshaw Manekji Pettit, who worked in India at the time, commented: “Mumbai is hidden in the depths of disease, dirt and degradation, and the sanitary conditions are completely intolerable by a third-rate European city!”
Although the British are so disgusted with India’s mess, they are unwilling to spend any energy and money to transform this huge “virus petri dish”. Soon, there were more and more patients with fever, pain in limbs, and bronchial inflammation in Mumbai, but the British colonial authorities thought it was just a normal flu and did not take it seriously. However, the influenza virus mutated without any protection in the entire Indian society. The incubation period became shorter and the fatality rate became higher. Many people went from infection to death in just one morning. At this point, the pandemic began to spread in India.
During the spread of the epidemic, India’s few hospitals had no beds. Even after requisitioning schools to expand the beds, it was far from enough to accept patients. Most patients had to wait to die. Records at the time stated that the dead bodies in the hospital were full, and no one dared to carry the bodies out to make room for the dying. The bodies were piled there in piles.
Not only hospitals, but the streets and lanes of various cities in India are full of corpses. Almost every house has people weeping for the dead, and an atmosphere of terror and depression permeates the entire India.
The reaction of the British colonial authorities to the pandemic was also heinous. When the epidemic broke out, many colonial government officials ran to the mountains to avoid the epidemic in order to protect themselves, leaving the Indian people in the epidemic area to fend for themselves. Seeing that the epidemic is raging, colonial officials who have no means to prevent the epidemic are still opening
Come up with some wonderful prescriptions: gargle with potassium permanganate, use more disinfectants, and sleep outdoors as much as possible. The result is naturally useless. There are rumors in India that the British secretly mutilated Indians in hospitals to extract liquid medicine to protect the British from the plague. As a result, millions of Indians fled the city to the countryside due to panic, bringing the epidemic to more places. The British colonial government launched strict controls, but it further intensified ethnic contradictions. In this terrifyingly spreading plague, Mahatma Gandhi in India almost died. In 1919, Gandhi published “Young India”, wrote: “In the face of such a terrible and disastrous epidemic, the government of any other civilized country will not be as inactive as the Indian government.”
The Indian Health Commissioner’s 1918 annual report stated that “all rivers are blocked by dead bodies. After prolonged soaking, these dead bodies have been soaked and started to rot and smell.” A 22-year-old Indian youth desperately said: “The Ganges is full of corpses because people do not have enough wood to cremate. Because of the epidemic, my family disappeared in an instant.”
It was not until two years later that the pandemic slowly disappeared in the world, and the whole of India was already full of grief at this time. According to India’s later estimates, as many as 17 million people died from this pandemic, accounting for about 1/20 of the total population of India at that time. Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, has cost 3 million lives due to this pandemic. ▲
19th century: Cholera spreading around the world
The outside world generally believes that the large-scale spread of the new crown epidemic in India is inseparable from the practice of Indian people gathering in violation of regulations to celebrate the “big pot festival.” In fact, the cholera epidemic that has been raging in India for a long time is also closely related to religious activities such as pilgrimages. However, the British colonial authorities turned a blind eye to this, which eventually led to tragedy and even endangered itself.
Since ancient times, the Ganges Delta of India has been the local disease source of cholera and has been known as the “hometown of human cholera”. In ancient times, the Indian continent was inconvenient to communicate with the outside world, and the spread of cholera was extremely slow. But with the advent of the great nautical era, the British not only opened the door to South Asia, but also opened the Pandora’s Box of the Ganges Delta cholera epidemic.
I have to say that cholera, a pandemic disease that spreads through the digestive system, has made Indians obsessed with the Ganges pay a heavy price. The Ganges, with a total length of 2,500 kilometers, is regarded as the most sacred river by Hindus. Every year from January to March, the bathing festival is held at the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims are immersed in the river to wash their bodies and souls. Not only that, Hindus also scattered the ashes of the dead into the Ganges. However, from a health perspective, the Ganges River became messy and became a breeding ground for Vibrio cholerae. As part of the pilgrimage ceremony, pilgrims drink the Ganges water raw, which provides ideal conditions for the spread of Vibrio cholerae. The behavior of pilgrims to bring the water to relatives and friends further promoted the spread of cholera.
To make matters worse, the abnormal weather conditions in the 19th century created suitable conditions for the reproduction of Vibrio cholerae. In 1815, India rained torrentially, flooded, and the harvest was lost. In 1816, it was extremely hot and dry. In 1817, there were torrential rains again and again. The cholera epidemic that lasted for several years and spread throughout India began. In March 1817, the death of a cholera patient occurred at the William Fort in Calcutta. However, the colonial authorities only regarded this as an isolated incident and did not pay attention to it. In July of the same year, cholera occurred one after another in various parts of Bangladesh, and Kolkata was also affected. In just one month, 25,000 people were infected and 4,000 people died. In 1818, the cholera epidemic spread to a wider area of India, where the death rate was as high as 7.5%.
In the following two years, the cholera epidemic continued to rages and spread abroad. Ceylon, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, and the Philippines were successively “successful”, thus unveiling the prelude to the worldwide cholera pandemic. Once the Pandora’s Box of Cholera is opened, it is not so easy to be closed. Since 1816, there have been 8 outbreaks of cholera on a global scale, and Asia, Europe, Africa, America and other places have suffered greatly. The famous Russian musician Tchaikovsky was killed by the disease during the third global outbreak of cholera.
Faced with the heavy losses caused by the cholera epidemic, at the International Health Conference held in Constantinople in 1866, countries adopted the theory of “contact infection” and clearly pointed out that “in the cause of the occurrence and spread of cholera in India Among the many reasons for this, the pilgrimage is the most important factor.” Investigations at the time showed that festival gathering activities related to Indian pilgrimages, such as “Holi Festival”, “Big Pot Festival”, and “Small Pot Festival”, were highly consistent with the outbreak cycles of multiple cholera epidemics in the 19th century. Because the crowds participating in these celebrations are in the millions, the cholera epidemic can spread very quickly and cause a large number of deaths.
For example, at the “Great Pot Festival” held in Hadwar in April 1867, the number of participants reached 3 million at its peak, but there were only 19 pilgrims receiving treatment for cholera. The epidemic spread quickly along the pilgrim route to northern India. About 250,000 people were infected with cholera that year, and half of them lost their lives. The International Health Conference urged the United Kingdom to step up its response to the cholera epidemic, but the colonial authorities “reversed”. In the mid-nineteenth century, British Indian health official Cunningham forced the promotion of quarantine measures, established emergency isolation hospitals, and quarantined pilgrims who might be infected with cholera, which once brought the epidemic under control. However, due to political compromise and financial difficulties, in the first half of 1868, the British health authorities persuaded Cunningham to stop quarantining ships sailing from Mumbai. The result of this relaxation of the epidemic prevention policy can be imagined. According to incomplete statistics, the cumulative number of Indians who have died of cholera over the years is as high as 38 to 60 million. ▲
1994: Large-scale plague scared millions away
Beginning in the Middle Ages, the plague, a plague of global discourse, broke out many times in the world under the name of the “Black Death”. In the 1950s, the third world plague pandemic basically subsided. Many experts believe that with the development of modern medicine, the plague has moved from an active period to a resting period. However, the plague epidemic that occurred in India in 1994 once again surprised experts.
The two states of Gujarat and Maharashtra in southwestern India have large bushes and jungle ecosystems with frequent animal activities. Due to the rapid expansion of India’s population and growing food shortages, people indiscriminately cleared the jungle in order to obtain more food sources, resulting in a significant reduction in the number of natural enemies of rats such as black-winged warblers, South Asian eagles and great bustards. In addition, the local slums are concentrated, garbage piles, and the number of rats Increasing day by day.
In 1994, the global climate was abnormal. Large areas of the northern hemisphere encountered rare high temperature weather. The Indian state of Gujarat and Maharashtra experienced heat waves. The hot weather accelerated the breeding and spread of pneumonic plague bacteria in large numbers. The plague first spread from rural areas in Maharashtra. However, in the eyes of the Indian government at that time, the illness of low-caste rural people was not a major event worthy of attention. In late September 1994, the Gujarat city of Surat near Maharashtra was in the midst of a carnival celebrating Ganesha. However, in the peaceful atmosphere, a creepy ghost has quietly sneaked into the city.
On September 19, Surat Hospital suddenly received 30 patients with similar conditions. They had a high fever, coughing, sneezing and vomiting blood, and soon fell into a faint. Since then, another group of patients have been sent to the hospital. On September 20, the first patient died in the hospital, and many more patients died one after another. The body of the deceased was black, with wide eyes protruding, and the pain was horrible. After the doctors tested the blood samples, they found that these patients were suffering from the plague, an epidemic in the neighboring countryside of Makhashtra.
After the disaster struck, Indian officials declared Surat into an “international public health emergency.” On September 23, the Surat authorities ordered the closure of all schools, movie theaters, and parks, and large enterprises such as factories and banks also ceased production and business until the government lifted the warning. However, the medical conditions in Surat are very poor, medical equipment is very backward, medical staff is seriously inadequate, and medicines for treatment are pitifully scarce, and medicines such as tetracycline and sulfa for the treatment of plague are extremely scarce. By October 4, more than 1,000 people had been sent to the hospital for treatment and examination, and 50 of them had contracted the disease and died.
After the outbreak of the plague, the Indian government’s handling of the epidemic was particularly disappointing. The government did not provide information on how to respond to the epidemic, and the medical department did not provide the people with correct preventive measures. Some people blindly believed that eradicating rats would be beneficial to ending the epidemic, and started a large-scale anti-rodent campaign. As a result, the rat fleas came into direct contact with humans, which further expanded the plague epidemic.
In order to escape the terrible shadow of the plague, the residents of Surat fled in large numbers, and the Indian government had to dispatch troops to control the situation. But it was too late. Because the blockade was not timely, hundreds of thousands of people ran away from their residences in desperate panic. According to estimates by relevant foreign agencies, about 500,000 people fled the city within 4 days after the epidemic was announced. They also brought the plague germ and fear to all parts of India and caused millions of people to leave their homes. In less than two weeks, plague outbreaks have been reported in many places in India. In the capital New Delhi alone, 770 people were admitted to the hospital and 4 of them died.
This plague, later known as the “Surat Storm”, not only claimed the lives of many Indians, but also brought immeasurable social chaos and economic losses to Indian society. At that time, there was a phenomenon of large-scale robbing of purchases in India, especially medicines and related medical equipment. More than 40 countries have taken decisive measures to temporarily suspend air and sea traffic with India, cancel flights to India, and conduct isolation, disinfection and sanitation inspections on flights, ships and cargo or passengers from India. At that time, there was a report that said: “This plague has made foreign investors skeptical about India’s investment environment. For this developing country that is eager to introduce foreign capital to develop its economy, it is undoubtedly a huge bad news…”