[Reader-list] 4th posting -Rockefeller foundation-mapping the urban life

burton cleetus burtoncleetus at yahoo.co.uk
Mon Aug 13 20:49:22 IST 2007

Mapping the urban life

The organization of the sanitary conditions by the
state of Travancore particularly for the urban centres
was closely interconnected to the changing notions of
the disease and the way in which it was perceived in
the indigenous societies. The spread of contagious
diseases was considered as a result of the
overcrowding of the population. By the second half of
the nineteenth century cholera, and small pox were
considered serious threat to the people of the state.
While the pre-nineteenth century categorization of
diseases by the indigenous medical practitioners and
accepted by the state, ‘fever’ was the most important
cause of death. Nevertheless the spread of western
medicine provided a new paradigm for the understanding
of the disease. As per biomedical understandings,
fever became a symptom rather than disease itself.
This led to new forms of categorization of the
diseases. Small pox, cholera and plague came to be
understood as the most important cause of death.

The earliest record of the ravages of cholera in
Travancore was in 1869-70 AD, and it struck again in
1876-77 in Trivandrum, and in 1881-82 at Nagercoil and
at Suchindram. This was understood to be the result of
the arrival of people for the annual car festival. The
disease continued in the three succeeding years in a
more or less severe form. In 1888-89 there was a
terrible epidemic in the taluks of Tovala,
Agastisvaram and Eraniel with 2101 deaths. However by
1892-93 cholera hitherto limited to the southern
districts of the state spread to the northern parts
and was then imported into the capital by the
returning pilgrims from the Ashtami festival at
Vaikom. In 1891-92 on account of the unusually severe
prevalence of cholera and smallpox at the capital the
government considered the urgency of introducing
urgent sanitary measures. A standing committee was
appointed to consider the subject and to suggest from
time to time such measures as might be necessary to
protect the town.

By the same time the there was the realization that
overcrowding of the people was an important cause for
the spread of the diseases. The cholera bacillus were
thought to have been brought to Travancore from the
adjoining British Territory and with the influx of
pilgrims in connection with St. Xaviers festival at
Kottar and the Car festival at Suchindram. The
condition of insanitation at festive gatherings was
considered pronounced so as to render every facility
for the growth, development and dissemination of the
disease to all parts. However the possibility of the
latent cholera germs belonging to a previous epidemic
existing here and there, and which under certain
conditions and acquiring fresh life and start the
disease on an epidemic course was desired. Thus three
factors for the cause of the outbreak of cholera was
identified. First, an active morbific agent in the
form of a specific cholera germ, Second a nutrient
pabulum or food represented by filth and general
insanitation on which the cholera germ can live,
multiply and thrive, producing the disease with an
intensity proportionate to the activity of its organic
life. Third, a certain combination of meteorological
conditions about whose precise nature, opinion is
still divided. Thus the state was not in a position to
arrive at the exact nature of the causes of the spread
of the disease in the state.

Similarly small pox continued to be an important cause
of worry for the authorities. By 1870’s, small pox
became a source of serious concern. However
vaccination against smallpox did not meet with much
success. The benefits of vaccination had not yet begun
to be understood by the people at large. There was a
very strong prejudice prevalent among the people
against placing smallpox patients under regular
treatment. The durbar physician observes in his
departmental Administration report that, “the Hindus
who constitute the great mass of the population
generally look upon any attempt to control the course
of it as little less than impious. It is with the
greatest difficulty, and that too in comparatively few
cases that they can be got even to disinfections.
Comparatively very few of the population, especially
among the adults, are protected by vaccination and
therefore considered also the in sanitary conditions,
public as well as private, in which the people live,
it cannot be expected that the epidemic shall soon
diminish in intensity.”

Till the close of the nineteenth century there was no
regular agency for the registration of vital
statistics in Travancore though the village officers
was expected to keep a register of births and deaths
known as Jananamaranakannakku, which was neither
considered accurate nor exhaustive. With the passing
of the Towns improvement and conservancy Regulation II
of 1894 AD the registration of births and deaths were
regularly started in the towns of Trivandrum,
Nagercoil, Quilon, Alleppey and Kottayam under the
control of the town improvement committees appointed
by government in 1894-95. A scheme for the
registration of the births and deaths throughout the
state was sanctioned with effect from the beginning of
1895 and special department was organised for
Vaccination, Vital statistics and sanitation and
placed under the charge of an officer styled the
sanitary commissioner. The main lines of the scheme
were laid down by the government as follows, 

The department as the name indicates, is charged with,
1) Registration of births and deaths, 2) Sanitation of
all parts of the country except the towns brought
under the operation of the Town Improvement regulation
3) Vaccination through out the country.
The department will be under the control of a
professional officer styled sanitary commissioner who
will be in direct communication with the government.
For purposes of this department, the whole country is
divided into four districts and an inspector will be
appointed to each district whose duty will be 1) to
superintendent and check the vital statistics through
out the district, 2) to attend to the sanitation of
all parts of the district where the Town improvement
Regulation is not in force; 3) to study and report on
the state of public health within his district; 4) to
superintendent the vaccination work and to be a sort
of traveling dispensary, actually conveying medical
aid to the door of the villager. The inspectors will
be under the immediate orders of the sanitary

Earlier in 1865 a regular vaccination department was
constituted and Dr. Pulney Andy was appointed as the
Superintendent of Vaccination. Subordinate to him
there were a head vaccinator and 27 other vaccinators.
The department was transferred to the control of the
sanitary commissioner in 1895-96 with a total number
of 81vaccinators. Under the new arrangement effected
in 1895-96 the superintendent of vaccination was
transferred to the medical department and the office
of the vaccination inspectors ceased to exist. It was
only in 1888-89 that calf lymph was first introduced
in Travancore, and sanction accorded for the
maintenance of a vaccine depot at the capital.
Hitherto the quality of the lymph was improved by the
occasional introduction of animal lymph from Madras. 

Vaccination was made compulsory with regard to Public
servants, students in all public schools, Government
or aided, Hospital patients and jail convicts, and
vakkils practicing under sunnads in courts. This was
affected by the royal proclamation issued on the 14th
August 1878, which while pointing out the advantages
as vaccination as a protection against smallpox, also
called upon the general population to submit to the
operation setting before them the example of the royal

It was calculated to exercise a wholesome influence in
the minds of the public, first in removing the
impression that the vaccine virus inoculated form hand
to hand had the effect of producing diseases from
which the subject may be suffering, and secondly as
the means of counteracting the prejudices of the
higher classes in subjecting themselves to be
vaccinated with the virus obtained from the lower
classes of the people. Such impression operated
prejudicially to the progress of vaccination.

 The durbar physician in 1881 and the sanitary
commissioner in 1896-97 urged upon the government the
necessity to make vaccination compulsory in
Travancore, but the government was of the opinion that
under the existing circumstances of the country it was
neither wise nor practicable to do so and the time has
not come for enforcing vaccination by a punitive act.

Sanitation and urban governance

Prior to the 1876-77 there was little attention paid
to the conservancy or sanitation of even the capital
city of Thiruvananthapuram, beyond employing a few
sweepers under the orders of the tahsildar to
occasionally sweep the streets in the forts. A
committee was accordingly appointed in 1880-81 to
report on the sanitation of the capital and to suggest
measures for placing it in an efficient condition. The
recommendations of the committee included the
construction of public latrines, removal of the night
soils and sweepings to a distance from the towns, the
construction of a number of dust boxes and carts
specially adopted for conservancy purposes, the
guarding of the principle tanks and feeding tanks from
pollution, the opening of new vegetable bazaars the
laying of new rules for regulating the erection of new
buildings to prevent the encroachments, the widening
of certain lanes, the better regulation of burial and
cremation of grounds and the entertainment of an
adequate establishment under proper supervision. All
these recommendations were accepted and placed under
the supervision of a sanitary inspector.

In 1886-87 the conservancy system was extended to the
towns of Kottayam, Alleppey, Kollam and Kottar. This
was considered as the germ of the "Modern Town
Improvement Committees."

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