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History of Quarantine& Sanitization in Kashmir for breaking the chains of Epidemics

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BY: Owais Ismaeil

The centuries-old strategy of quarantine is becoming a powerful component of the public health response to emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. The modern state of J&K came into existence in 1846 with the treaty of Amritsar through which British transferred the Kashmir to Dogra king Maharaja Gulab Singh. During the early part of Dogra rule (1846-1900), the valley was deteriorated to an extent that epidemics and deaths were a common phenomenon. It was the time when epidemics like Cholera, plague, small pox and many more affected the place to a larger extent. These diseases were problematic for the people and an issue of seriousness for the State as they inflicted a huge loss to the human resource. Dr. Ernest Neve described cholera as most destructive epidemic disease to have visited India in nineteenth century. It was known by the name “Waba” in Kashmir as current epidemic COVID19 is also regarded as “Waba” by most of the Kashmiris. Modern historian Anil Kumar has maintained the view that during nineteenth century cholera epidemic occurred about ten times in the State i.e. in 1824, 1844, 1852, 1858, 1867, 1872, 1875-76, 1879, 1888, and in 1892. In the latter half of the nineteenth century cholera became more rampant in the State. This was due to improved means of communication and travelling activities including the religious activities like pilgrimage. The well reputed pilgrimage centre, Amarnath cave and Haridwar Kumbh Mela were the places from where infection was said to have spread at various occasions. Dr. Elmslie wrote “some sepoys, who had got leave to go and wash in the Ganges at Hardwar, had returned to their regiment at Srinagar and brought the seeds of cholera with them”. This was directly linked to discourage religious activities in Kashmir, similarly the way congregation prayers in the Kashmir valley are suspended at the moment.

The cholera of 1892 which was most devastating among all was reportedly spread due to travel from Punjab and the total number of deaths occurred in Kashmir due to  this cholera were 11,712. It was regarded as the most destructive epidemics in Kashmir. Ernest Neve has demonstrated that the Srinagar city which was known to be the City of Sunhas become “City of Dreadful Deaths” and it was even difficult to dispose the dead bodies. This was the time when emphasis on quarantine and sanitization measures to eradicate this epidemic was taken seriously in Kashmir and the need of an hour is to follow the same way to fight current COVID-19 epidemic since we are equipped with more protection gear’s and facilities at this moment, it should not be a problem to restrain the spread provided we follow the measures properly.

QUARANTINE MEASURES

The first and foremost step Government used to take in case of outbreak of any epidemic was opening of inspection posts at the places of entry in the State. The officials posted at these posts were strict in observance and never led any passenger to move freely without check-ups. The posts were setup at Banihal, Baramulla, Uri and all those who were found to suffer from any bowel complaints were detained at a temporary hospital till they were treated. Sanitary cordons were constructed around the infected areas so that the free movement of people could be discouraged and the disease could be controlled from spreading to other areas. Quarantine laws could be observed during medical emergency like spread of communicable diseases which were used to enforce isolation of infected places and persons from uninfected in order to check the spread of disease in epidemic in a particular region for a particular time.

SANITARY MEASURES

Poor sanitary conditions in valley were described as one of the main reasons for the epidemics. However, sanitary conditions of Kashmir have improved a lot after establishment of municipalities in 1885. The epidemics of cholera taught an important lesson of sanitation to the people “that the disease could not be cured yet it could be prevented, by improving the sanitary conditions of the towns and cities”. More emphasis was laid on preventive medicine and sanitation after the epidemic of 1892. The sanitary conditions of the valley improved a lot in the wake of cholera epidemics. Public health control measures have been an essential way to reduce contact between persons sick with a disease and persons susceptible to the disease. When there was no vaccine or therapy to treat epidemics, these measures helped a lot to contain infection, delay the spread of disease, prevent panic and death and maintain the set-up of the society. In current coronavirus disease pandemic we have focus on such strategies and follow the quarantine procedures, scientific precautionary measures and combat this disease by restricting it to the lowest numbers.

There is currently no vaccine against the disease and according to the latest scientific reports, it is going to be available within next 6-12 months or more than that. So before it reaches to the community levels and makes the catastrophic replication, let’s repeat the history of following the basic precautionary measures to save our lives.

  • The writer is Research Scholar, Department of History, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Raebareli Road, Lucknow. E-mail: owaisimi6@gmail.com

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