Hyderabad: Hyderabad is not a stranger to plagues and epidemics. The government of the Nizams, one time rulers, had put in place extensive mechanisms to deal with such problems.
Many decades ago the city had several “plague camps”. In times of crisis, the administration would move people to these camps to prevent or slow down the spread of the disease.
These camps were used throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century up until the late 1930s, according to one historian. They were also used to isolate travellers coming from outside the state, especially those from places known to be infected areas.
An early mention of this system can be found in the 1909 edition of ‘The Imperial Gazetteer of India’s Provincial Series: Hyderabad State’. It reads: “(Plague) camps were subsequently established at some frontier railway stations, where passengers were inspected and detained and travellers from infected areas were kept under observation after leaving the camps.”
Just a few years after this document was published, these camps would be indispensable in the Nizam’s efforts to fight cholera (locally known as gattara) and later the Spanish flu (1918-20).
B. Anuradha Reddy, convener of the Hyderabad chapter of Intach, remembers her mother’s accounts of having to temporarily move residence during a public medical emergency. Her family’s social stature, however, kept them out of a general camp.
“In the 1930s, my mother’s family lived in Bhokalpur near Jawaharnagar. Her father B. Ranga Reddy was the revenue secretary of the seventh Nizam. During a medical emergency, my family moved to a house in Begumpet,” she said.
“The healthy general public would be asked to live in these camps so that they wouldn’t be cramped all the time. The idea was to facilitate a healthy amount of space for each person,” she says.
Mr Sajjad Shahid, a noted historian from the city, remembers a similar incident. At roughly the same time as Ms Reddy’s mother, his mother’s family, used to live at Aghapura near Nampally.
“My mother told me of the time when she had to move to a camp near Irrum Manzil during an outbreak when she was around seven or eight years old,” he recalled.
The Nizam’s administration took many other steps during such outbreaks. “There were restrictions on movement within sections of the city. When someone died of a plague, their bodies would be buried in the nearest graveyard, irrespective of their religion. This is the reason Hyderabad has many graveyards where Hindus, Muslims, and Parsis are buried together,” said Mr Shahid....