chapter  5
19 Pages

Plague, quarantine and empire

British–Indian sanitary strategies in Central Asia, 1897–1907
WithSanchari Dutta

The appearance of plague in Bombay in 1896 revived the thorny issue of sanitary surveillance against Indian shipping. It elicited a massive international response as most countries in frequent communication with India introduced quarantine against Indian ports, with varying degrees of severity. The negotiations in the Venice Conference revealed the intimate linkages between sanitation and politics, quarantine and empire. Acute colonial competition occasioned the emergence of quarantine – with its various adjuncts – as a viable means of exerting informal imperial control in Central Asia. Autocratic nations such as Germany and Austria, on the other hand, privileged national interest over the individual to enforce draconian land and maritime quarantines. The Venice proposals concerning quarantine in the Gulf and the subsequent European involvement in the issue collectively threatened to undermine British sanitary control in the region. The politicisation of quarantine was clearly visible in the strategic deployment of doctors and medical missions in politically sensitive regions of Central Asia.