1918 flu pandemic in India: How the Spanish Flu of 1918 changed India

1918 flu pandemic in India

1918 flu pandemic in India: In 1918, the famous Hindi poet Suryakant Tripathi Nirala would have been 22 years old. He wrote in his autobiography Kulli Bhat- I was standing on the banks of the Ganges in Dalmau.

As far as could be seen, only human bodies were seen in the Gangas water. The news came from my mother-in-law that my wife Manohara Devi is also dead. 

My brother’s eldest son, who was 15 years old,  and my one-year-old daughter also died. Many more people in my family had gone forever. Woods were decreased for the cremation of people. 

My family disappeared from my eyes in the blink of an eye. I could see darkness all around me. It was learned from the newspapers that all these were victims of a big epidemic.

1918 flu pandemic in India: How the Spanish Flu of 1918 changed India

Mahatma Gandhi and Premchand also suffer from the Spanish Flu

1918 flu pandemic in India
1918 flu pandemic in India

Not only Nirala’s family but Mahatma Gandhi, who gave freedom to India, also fell victim to this deadly disease similar to the Spanish Flu.

Gandhi’s daughter-in-law Rose and grandson Shanti also died of this disease. If Gandhi had not been cured of this disease, perhaps the history of India’s freedom struggle would have been written differently.

This epidemic had killed about one crore 80 lakh Indian people. It is also said that the famous novelist Premchand was also infected with this disease.

It is not discussed so much in the pages of history, but due to this epidemic, people’s anger against the British government had skyrocketed.

The disease began on May 29, 1918, when the Indian soldiers returning from the front of the First World War were boarded at the Bombay port and stood anchored there for about 48 hours.

Medical historian and author of the book ‘Riding the Tiger Amit Kapoor writes, “On June 10, 1918, seven policemen who were stationed at the port were admitted to the hospital on the complaint of Najle and cold. It was contagious in India. The disease was the first case of the Spanish Flu. By then, the disease had spread throughout the world. “

It is estimated that 10 to 200 million people died from this disease all over the world. John Barry writes in his book ‘The Great Influenza – The Epic Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, “In the United States with a population of one and a half million people, approximately 75 thousand people died of the disease. 

In 1918, there were so many people in the world who died of this disease, who had not died of any disease before. In the bubonic plague that spread in the 13th century, 25% of Europe’s population had died, but even then the death toll from the Spanish flu spread in 1918 was more than that.

1918 flu pandemic in India Painful deaths

1918 flu pandemic in India
1918 flu pandemic in India

John Barry further writes, ‘The number of people who died in 24 weeks in the 1918 pandemic has not died in 24 years from AIDS. The most impact of this disease was on the victim’s lungs. 

He used to get an unbearable cough and blood started flowing from his nose and sometimes ears and mouth. There was so much pain in the whole body that it seemed that all the bones would break. 

The color of the skin of the patient was first blue, then purple, and finally black. In Philadelphia in America, the team was that the clergy used to go home on horseback and used to ask people to open the doors of their houses and hand over the bodies kept inside. They used to make sounds like that nowadays, the scrap men call home.

‘Initially, when this disease spread, governments around the world hid it because it would lower the morale of the soldiers fighting on the front. Spain first acknowledged the existence of this disease. Hence it was named Spanish Flu.

1918 flu pandemic in India: Spread Because of Railways

1918 flu pandemic in India
1918 flu pandemic in India

The disease spread in Bombay, and the Indian Railways took it to other parts of India. By the end of 1920, between five and ten million people died of this disease in the whole world, more than the total deaths in both world wars.

The maximum number of 18 million people in India means 6 percent of the population at that time. From the heights of Kashmir to the villages of Bengal, no one was untouched by this disease.

Giving details of the spread of the disease in India, John Berry has written, ‘People in India were well-off in trains. By the time he reached his destination, he was either dead or on the verge of dying. 

One day in Bombay, on October 6, 1918, 768 people died. Thirteen thousand one hundred ninety influenza patients were admitted to a hospital in Delhi, out of which 7044 died.

1918 flu pandemic in India: How the Spanish Flu of 1918 changed India and how women were affected

1918 flu pandemic in India
1918 flu pandemic in India

In Britain, where the death rate from this disease was 4.4 per thousand, in India, this rate was 20.6 per thousand. The situation in India was worse because, at that time, India had the worst drought in history.

Hunger reduces the body’s healing ability, so this Flu was proving to be more deadly for Indians. Another noticeable point was that women were falling victim to this disease more than men all over the country.

Perhaps the reason for this is that women get less food than men in Indian society. Other women were caring for the sick, so this disease was catching them early.

Growth rate below zero

1918 flu pandemic in India
1918 flu pandemic in India

1918 was the worst year in India’s 120-year economic history. India’s growth rate went below zero to 10.8 percent, and inflation broke all previous records.

This disease affected the Indian economy more than Bengal’s drought and World War. Only once in the history of the census of India in 1911-1021 that the population of the country has decreased compared to the last ten years.

It would probably not be wrong to say that the Spanish Flu played the biggest role in it. By March 1920, the disease was controlled.

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About the author

Praneet Thakur

Praneet Thakur is a dynamic entrepreneur and SEO expert from Mumbai, known for founding startups like ShoutRank and World Wire. His expertise in digital marketing and passion for blogging have helped clients achieve top rankings in competitive markets. As an editor for World-Wire, Praneet has made significant contributions to the internet news and marketing industry.

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