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Empires of PanicEpidemics and Colonial Anxieties$
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Robert Peckham

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9789888208449

Published to Hong Kong Scholarship Online: September 2015

DOI: 10.5790/hongkong/9789888208449.001.0001

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Disease, Rumor, and Panic in India’s Plague and Influenza Epidemics, 1896–1919

Disease, Rumor, and Panic in India’s Plague and Influenza Epidemics, 1896–1919

(p.111) 5 Disease, Rumor, and Panic in India’s Plague and Influenza Epidemics, 1896–1919
Empires of Panic

David Arnold

Hong Kong University Press

The severity of a crisis and the magnitude of the panicked reactions it triggers are not always commensurate. This is an insight developed by Arnold in Chapter 5. While the epidemic of bubonic plague resulted in an estimated 8.5 million deaths and 10 million by 1921, the influenza pandemic of 1918–19 caused a further 12 million deaths in India in the space of only a few months. But, where plague provoked a major “panic” that affected both the colonial regime and the Indian population, sparking rumor, riots, repression, and mass migration from urban centers, the greater and more abrupt mortality of the influenza episode passed without any apparent crisis. Clearly, the scale of mortality alone does not explain the onset of a deep sense of crisis in 1896–97 and its relative absence in 1918–19. So why, Arnold enquires, was the influenza epidemic the “dog that did not bark”? In addressing this question, the chapter looks at the contrasting epidemiology of the diseases and their cultural construction, the very different governmental and public health responses to them, the timing of the epidemics in relation to internal political and economic developments, and the international situation surrounding them.

Keywords:   Panics, Diseases, Fire, Colonies, Policies, Government, History, Empires, Technology

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