Sunday, March 15, 2020

Spanish Flu in Jammu and Kashmir, 1918


An account of destruction brought by Spanish Flu in Jammu and Kashmir in 1918. Based on State 1921 Census report. This was the pandemic that killed 25–39 million people around the world and decimated about 5% of Indian population back then with about 17 million people dead. Do keep in mind in World War 1 men from Jammu, Poonch went to take part. It was travel necessitated by a far off war that make this flu a fast moving pandemic.  

The heaviest toll of human lives was, however, exacted by the fell epidemic of Influenza, which wrought havoc among the population regardless of climate, . locality, profession, sex or age. The losses reported by the Chief Medical Officers give a. total of 44,514, but some of the reported figures are not quite reliable. The pest started from the city of Jammu, where there were, properly speaking, two attacks: The first which occurred in Au!ruSt 1918, was in a mild form and did not result in much loss of life. The severe and fatal form of the epidemic commenced from the middle of October and the first death in the Jammu city were recorded on 17th October. The transmission of infection by human agency from the city to the villages was, only a matter of days, and the disease soon penetrated into the remotest tracts and even the most isolated and outlying hamlets were unable, to escape the infection. It was a hard task to ascertain the exact number of deaths from Influenza in the city or to discriminate between deaths from War fever- as Influenza was popularly called-and malarial fever which was prevailing simultaneously but yielded to treatment with quinine. The total number of deaths attributed to influenza in the city with a population of over 31,000, in about two months times was 519, against a total death roll of 686. The number of deaths during the corresponding period in 1917 was 164. The highest daily rate of 38 was recorded with a fortnight of the outbreak.

The total mortality from Influenza in the Jammu Province (excluding the city) during the period of four months is reported to be 7,988, but these figures are undoubtedly unreliable, considering that the number of deaths in Kashmir where the epidemic was believed to be less virulent and fatal, amounted according to a rough calculation made by the Chief Medical Officer, to 15,000. This assumption receives further support from the fact that the total mortality from all causes in the Province (including the city) in 1918 stood at 49,800 against 25,817 and 2I,844 respectively in the two years immediately preceding and succeeding the year of Influenza. It is, therefore, obvious that the unprecedentedly heavy mortality of that year is attributable in a very large measure to the ravages of Influenza and the Police report of only 7,988 deaths is a very considerable underestimate of the actual mortality.

In Kashmir the epidemic first appeared in a mild form in August, but this visit only proved to be the forerunner of the disastrous visitation later on in October. Rapidly travelling as far as Kargil and Ladakh it was raging with full force in the Ladakh District by the end of November. Fortunately the mortality in Kashmir does not seem to have been very heavy. The total number of deaths according to the Chief Medical Officer's estimate comes to I5,000 against 7,007 reported by the Police. The unreliable nature of the Police reports has already been discussed, and as an illustration of the value of these reports it may mentioned that in Srinagar Municipality only 76 deaths from Influenza were registered by Police against the President's estimate of at least l,000.




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In the decade the population growth was below normal but still positive at 5.1% (compared to pan India where it was down to just 1.2 percent). However the impact of Spanish flu on the population can be gauged from the fact that the population growth for the previous decade had been 8.69 percent. The decade overall saw more deaths than births across divisions. The reports goes on to say:


The main factor contributing to this result is the prevalence of Influenza epidemic in 1918, which carried away at least 44,514 souls according to the most cautious estimates drawn up by the Chief .Medical Officers. It is a pity that authentic figures of deaths from Influenza are not obtainable, as the reporting agency could not distinguish Influenza from common fever, and as the column for recording the cause of death in the Death register, is not usually filled in. At the same time, the reporting agency both in cities. and the mufassil was thoroughly paralysed by the sudden and widespead nature of the epidemic, and could not be expected to properly discharge their dutees. In these circumstances the Chief Medical Officers had to base their estimates of mortality from Influenza on their general enquiries, assisted by a comparison of the total mortality during the year with the average death rate. Unfortunately the vital statistic of the present decade are as worthless and unreliable as those of the previous decennium.

Bulk of increase in population is explained as "immigration"
In addition, in Mirpur it was estimated 1.6% population of 1911 was dead due to influenza. In Skardu 6.8 %. The population of Punch town which is the capital of Punch Ilaqa decreased from 7,564 in 1911 to 7,026 in 1921. Pattan town (back then freshly coming along Jhelum cart road) lost 10% of population. In the valley it was also noticed that the population of darweshes or fakirs increased by 40% and the report links it to destitution cause by Flu. 

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Scale of Spanish flu deaths in rest of India. The Indian census report notes:

The influenza epidemic of 1918 invaded the continent of India in two distinct waves. The first infection apparently radiated from Bombay and progressed eastward from their, but its origin and foci are uncertain. It may have been introduced from shipping in Bombay district, Delhi, and Meerut in the spring; but the existence of the diseases in epidemic form cannot be established without doubt before June. The diseases became general in India in both the military and civil population during August and infection spread rapidly from place to place by rail, road and water.


1 comment:

  1. I remember my grandfather telling me about it...Actually my forefather had told him about it.

    ReplyDelete

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