The K.R Cama Oriental Institute- Coping with epidemics: The Bombay Experience

25 November 2020 

The team at TARQ is delighted to partner with the K.R Cama Oriental Institute to present ‘Coping with epidemics: The Bombay Experience’, a two-evening seminar with Dr. Mridula Ramanna. Join us as Dr. Ramanna delves deeper into Plague of 1896 in Bombay and The Bombay Experience of Influenza,1918. Each lecture will be followed by a Q&A session. This event is supported by TARQ.


About the Seminar:


Plague of 1896 in Bombay
When the Bombay plague of 1896 broke out, the colonial authorities knew neither where it came from nor how to control its spread or treat it. The anti- plague measures enforced were inspection, disinfection, segregation, isolation and hospitalisation. These were regarded as culture and gender insensitive, and invasive into the privacy of homes. The sense of outrage over the intrusive controls was the dominant sentiment of the people. This lecture will examine reactions to these measures, based on contemporary newspaper accounts. The other focus would be the role of Indian doctors, the frontline workers, who were involved in the diagnosis of the disease, and in attending to plague patients at hospitals. It was their presence at hospitals that discounted anxieties. The doctors assisted Waldemar Mordecai Haffkine, in developing the plague prophylactic. It was their propagation of the inoculation through various forums that made it gradually acceptable in the 1900s. They also participated in trials of serum therapy.

The Bombay Experience of Influenza,1918- 1919
Two decades after the Bombay plague of 1896-7, came the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919 which has been regarded the most devastating infection to strike the world since the Black Death of the mid 14th century. The impact of the disease in India was overshadowed by the prior encounter with bubonic plague, by the military recruitment for World War I, and by food shortages and price rises that had pushed India to the brink of famine. The colonial government did not intervene more actively in the 1918–19 epidemic, in part because of its previous experience during the plague, when there was vigorous opposition to the draconian controls imposed, then. Focusing on the pandemic in Bombay, this lecture would look at the reportage in the contemporary press on this neglect by the colonial authorities. It will show the role of voluntary organizations in trying to provide relief, in the cities of the Presidency. The lack of official documentation, public debate, and the visual absence of records of the 1918-19 pandemic, in contrast to the number of photographs and documents available on the plague epidemic in India, has been pointed out recently by David Arnold. One explanation could be that that for many Indians the epidemic was one more scourge to bear, and not the primary issue. The underlying issue was hunger and poverty.

About the Speaker:
Mridula Ramanna has authored Facets of Public Health in Early Twentieth Century Bombay (2020) Health Care in Bombay Presidency, 1896-1930, (2012) Western Medicine and Public Health in Colonial Bombay,1845-1895, (2002) and Edward Moor, (2014). She has contributed sixty chapters and articles to numerous studies of medicine in colonial India, particularly Bombay.
She was former Head, Department of History, South Indian Education Society College, Mumbai.

About the Institute:
The K R Cama Oriental Institute was established in 1916 through funds collected from the citizens of Bombay to perpetuate the memory of Mr Kharshedji Rustomji Cama, the renowned oriental scholar, linguist, social reformer and educationist who passed away in 1909. The Institute was formally inaugurated on 18 December 1916 by the then Governor of the Bombay Presidency, Lord Willingdon.

The Institute is one of the oldest and most prestigious Institutes in India in the field of cultural and historical studies. The objectives of the institute include the study, promotion and advancement of research and publications in the fields of Oriental cultural and historical studies. The Institute promotes research by awarding scholarships and fellowships and also publishes its own journal and books.

The Institute Library, which is considered as one of the best among its type in the world, is the treasure house for the study and research in religions, history and cultures of India. Nationally and internationally reputed scholars take advantage of the excellent facilities provided at the Institute’s library.

Between 2001 and 2020 the Institute organised a series of National and International Seminars on “Ferdowsi and his Shahnameh” (2001), “The Life and Work of Dr Sir J J Modi” (2004), “Universal Influence of Moulana Jalaluddin Rumi” (2005), “The Contribution Made By The Parsis To The Development Of Different Aspects Of Education In The 19th and 20th Centuries In Western India” (2009), “Architecture As Social History: Reflections On Bombay/Mumbai” (2010), “The Shahnameh” (2011), “Krishnadevaraya And His Times – Cultural Perspectives” (2012), “Indo-Hellenic Cultural Transactions” (2013), “Trading Circuits, Mobile Cultures: Port-Cities And Littoral Societies Of The Indian Ocean” (2014), “Cultural Dialogues Between India And Southeast Asia From The 7th To The 16th Centuries” (2015), “Textiles, Collections, Communities, Culture And Trade” (2016), “The Art And Culture Of Mughal India” (2017), “From Nisa To Niya: Reappraising Cultural Conduits And Commercial Centres Along The Silk Road” (2018), “Design, Culture And History - The Idea Of Objects In Modern And Contemporary India” held on 5 and 6 January 2019 and “The Forts Of Maharashtra”, held on 16 and 17 February 2019. The most recent seminar on “The Past and Future of Food on the Indian Subcontinent: Identity and Cultural Heritage” held on 11 and 12 January 2020 has been a great success.