In an interview with Pandemic Discourses Co-Editor and India China Institute Co-director Mark W Frazier, Associate Professor in Colonial Urban History at the University of Leicester, Prashant Kidambi, discusses the continuities and disjunctions between the 1896 bubonic plague and Covid-19 in Mumbai.

Your history of colonial Bombay in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries (The Making of An Indian Metropolis) contains a fascinating chapter on the bubonic plague of 1896. The plague claimed 8 million victims in the Indian subcontinent between 1896 and 1914, including nearly 184,000 in Bombay. You describe how Bombay colonial authorities held a highly “localist” view of the plague, which attributed the disease to “unsanitary,” poorly ventilated urban spaces as the vectors of disease rather than a contagionist etiology that viewed human bodies as the carriers. This led to massive interventions to “disinfect” the city’s crowded neighbourhoods and “slums.” Is it fair to say that the Indian government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly in Mumbai, has in its own way followed this outdated localist framework?
There are certainly very striking parallels between the two contexts. Even though Covid-19 is a contagious virus that can infect anyone irrespective of their location, official authorities in Mumbai and many other cities have tended to...

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