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Village and Town Sanitation T hroughout her decades of work on India, Nightingale was concerned that sufficient attention be given to the sanitary condition of villages and towns. While her own work had begun with the army, she ‘‘always believed that unless the sanitation of towns and villages in India could be achieved, army sanitation would be meaningless.’’1 Many problems of village sanitation were similar to those of cities, but enough was sufficiently different that special measures were required. Infrastructure improvements in the large cities, such as sewers and drains, were already underway when Nightingale began to work on India. But she insisted on the necessity of building adequate sewage and drainage facilities in villages, securing good water and paying attention to hygiene, which sometimes meant changing traditional ways of conducting daily activities. India was ‘‘essentially a country of villages’’ (see p 248 below), peopled by peasant farmers who, mainly but not exclusively, practised subsistence agriculture, in stark contrast with England’s more commercialized system of agriculture.2 The realities of peasant farming in India had great implications for Indian public health: for instance, ryots were not aware that they were polluting the subsoil with excrement , and thereby fouling their drinking water and causing disease. Nightingale could write: ‘‘It is no exaggeration to say that the subsoil round every village home in India is saturated with human filth or decomposing organic matter. We hear a great deal about cholera being so ‘mysterious,’ so ‘erratic.’ The ‘mystery’ of cholera, the ‘mystery ’ of fever is in the filth-sodden soil’’ (see p 657 below). Moreover, the manure wasted in the subsoil could be put to use to fertilize the soil. Nightingale learned much about healthy and produc1 Gourlay, Florence Nightingale and the Health of the Raj 176. 2 See David Ludden, Peasant History in South India and An Agrarian History of South Asia. / 231 tive farming, farming methods, implements, subsoil and manure, and could come up with concrete proposals. For example: ‘‘Are not the two great wants of Indian agriculture manure and improved agricultural implements?’’ she said in one instance. ‘‘With regard to the latter, the great English firms are but too anxious, as a mere matter of business , to find out what will suit India and at what price, for the purpose of supplying it’’ (see p 688 below). Nightingale wanted sanitary measures to be clear and comprehensive , as her correspondence relating to the Bombay Village Sanitation Bill shows (see p 336 below). She consistently asked to be informed of the situation and of the progress made, and her usual eagerness to read the annual reports of health officers and the minutes of the presidencies ’ commissions is clearly evident in her letters. Her publications and correspondence abundantly show the care she gave to improving living conditions in villages, her insistence on the practical actions to be taken and the importance she attributed to the role of women in the enterprise. She was in tune with the most enlightened promoters of public health, who shared the growing conviction that sanitation was the ‘‘basic function of municipal government ,’’ including ‘‘conservancy, the provision of piped clean water, sewerage and drainage,’’ and eventually ‘‘the maintenance of hospitals and dispensaries, vaccination, the regulation of markets, slaughterhouses , burning ghats and burial grounds.’’3 In other words, she encouraged Indian municipalities to take responsibility for promoting their own improvement in public health and to construct an adequate sanitary infrastructure. In 1880 Nightingale began to call towns and villages, significantly, her new ‘‘clients’’ (see p 298 below). The material collected in this section on village and town sanitation illustrates the evolution of Nightingale’s concerns (shared by her collaborators and correspondents) throughout her India work, from her preoccupation with the well-being of the army, British and Indian, to her focus on the conditions of peasants living in villages; from the application of sanitary measures for the benefit of soldiers to the improvement of the social lot of the ryots; from hygiene to politics, education and law. Nightingale’s contribution to this work was increasingly full of and motivated by her desire to give voice to Indian nationals, and to ‘‘get 3 David Arnold, Colonizing the Body: State Medicine and Epidemic Disease in Nineteenth -Century India 274. Ghats are steps to the river, a ‘‘burning ghat’’ for cremation. 232 / Florence Nightingale on Social Change in India everything done by the people themselves’’ (see p 255 below). In 1888 she thought that ‘‘what is wanted in India ultimately is...


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