The medical tornado “coronavirus” being declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation and after approximately at least 11,401 confirmed deaths and more than 276,007 confirmed cases as on 21st March ,2020 , [i]the Wuhan originated strain has become a midpoint of news , reports , gossips ,and rumors for every single one in real and virtual world.These type of medical emergencies are not new to India or the world as a whole ,it’s just that developing a proper medicines will take a few more months, let us recall the Bengal Plague and Swami Vivekananda’s ‘Plague Manifesto’ (1898) which not only helps us psychologically and emotionally but also Swami Vivekananda in his letter ‘Plague Manifesto’ which was also drafted in Bengali and Hindi and was reached to a greater part of population by the hard work of Swami Sadananda and Sister Nivedita asked to remain ‘’free from fear as fear is the biggest Sin’’ .Swamiji says “Always keep the mind cheerful. Everyone will die once. Cowards suffer the pangs of death again and again, solely due to the fear in their own minds.’He urged to thrust aside this fear ‘’Come, let us give up this false fear and, having faith in the infinite compassion of God, gird our loins and enter the field of action. Let us live pure and clean lives. Disease, fear of an epidemic, etc., will vanish into thin air by His grace.’’ He further adds the means to remain hygienic ‘’Always keep the house and its premises, the rooms, clothes, bed, drain, etc., clean. Do not eat stale, spoiled food; take fresh and nutritious food instead. A weak body is more susceptible to disease. During the period of epidemic, abstain from anger and from lust — even if you are householders. He also asked not to panic and pay any heads to the rumours .[ii]
It was Sister Nivedita and other monastic disciples of Swami Vivekananda who tirelessly worked day and night to give service to the people of Calcutta . Swamiji urged “Brother, if there is no one to help you, then send information immediately to the servants of Shri Bhagavan Ramakrishna at Belur Math. There will be no dearth of help that is physically possible. By the grace of the Mother, monetary help will also be possible.
It was in March ,1899 that the plague broke out in Calcutta for the second time .[iii] A committee was formed by Ramkrishna Mission with Sister Nivedita as the Secretary , Swami Sadananda as the Supervisor and Swami Shivananda , Nityananda and Atmananda as the members. [iv] The services rendered in fighting the plague became memorable in the history of Calcutta .The relief work started on 31st March , Swami Sadananda who was a master in organisational work started cleaning the slums of Shambazar ,Baghbazar and other neighbouring localities . He moved around with a group of sweeper-boys and took upon himself the responsibility of cleaning . [v] On April 5 , Sister Nivedita who was coordinating this whole task made an appeal through newspapers for financial aid [vi] Sister Nivedita along with Swamiji delivered lectures on Plague . On April 21 , she spoke to the students at the classic Theatre on “The Plague and the Duty of Students ‘’.[vii] Sister Nivedita asked “How many of you will volunteer to come forward and help in the labour of cleansing huts and bustees ?In such matters we all stand and fall together , and the man who abandons his brother is taken by despair himself . The cause of the poor is the cause of all today –let us assert it by practical action [viii]. Hearing their lectures ,enthusiasm for the work was created and about fifteen students offered themselves in the work of plague service . The work was carried out in an organised manner, Sister Nivedita use to distribute the printed handbills containing the preventive measures on how to fight the plague. One day, she started cleaning the lanes herself when there was a shortage of volunteers. Seeing her, the young men of the locality felt ashamed and supported her by taking the broomstick and cleaning the rubbish and the pathway.
Dr. Radha Gobinda Kar , one of the eminent physicians of those days and eye witness to Sister Nivedita’s work says : one day , when i returned to home at noon-time in the month of Chaitra after seeing the patients , I saw a European lady sitting on a dusty chair near the door . She was Sister Nivedita .[ix]She was here to get some information. Dr. Kar on that morning had been to see a plague- stricken child in a slum at Baghbazar . Sister Nivedita inquired about the child who was in critical condition , she ran and reached the locality in no time and irrespective of the precautions informed by the doctor to her she took the child into her laps .The child’s mother had already died . Sister Nivedita temporarily moved to this hut to take care of the child . Day and night she remained engaged in the nursing the child , ignoring the possible danger . She even white-washed the walls herself . [x]Her nursing never slackened even when death was a certainty . After two days , the child died in the lap of Nivedita . Before breathing its last , the child called her “Ma Ma “ taking her for its own mother A vivid description of the work about plague is given in an article entitled “The Plague “ in her book , Studies from a Eastern Home .
This was just a single mention , her merciful presence was familiar sight in all the localities .
In of her letters she wrote to an English friend, Mrs. Coulston she says: “There is endless work. Only to live here is in itself work . [xi]Sister Nivedita and her team constantly carried on their efforts for a complete month before they succeeded in controlling the disease.
Thus let us not panic, fear and spread rumours ,rather accept the preventive measures issued by the state and Government of India .
[i] Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE”. ArcGIS. Johns Hopkins CSSE. Retrieved 13 March 2020.
[iii] Nivedita of India published by the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture ,Kolkata ,2016 ,Pg 27 -30
[iv] Atmaprana Pravrajika , Sister Nivedita published by Pravrajika Swarupaprana , Secretary ,Sister Nivedita Girl’s School ,Calcutta Pg 74-76
[v] Nivedita of India published by the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture ,Kolkata ,2016 ,Pg 27 -30
[vi] Atmaprana Pravrajika , Sister Nivedita published by Pravrajika Swarupaprana , Secretary ,Sister Nivedita Girl’s School ,Calcutta Pg 74-76
[vii] Atmaprana Pravrajika , Sister Nivedita published by Pravrajika Swarupaprana , Secretary ,Sister Nivedita Girl’s School ,Calcutta Pg 74-76
[viii] The complete Works of Sister Nivedita published by the Ramakrishna Sarda Mission Sister Nivedita’s School , Calcutta ,Vol-5 ,Pg 220
[ix] Atmaprana Pravrajika , Sister Nivedita published by Pravrajika Swarupaprana , Secretary ,Sister Nivedita Girl’s School ,Calcutta Pg 74-76
[x] Nivedita of India published by the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture ,Kolkata ,2016 ,Pg 27 -30
[xi] Atmaprana Pravrajika , Sister Nivedita published by Pravrajika Swarupaprana , Secretary ,Sister Nivedita Girl’s School ,Calcutta Pg 74-76
(Nikhil Yadav is a State Youth Head at Vivekananda Kendra, Uttar Prant. He obtained his Masters in History from the University of Delhi and is pursuing COP in Vedic Culture from Jawaharlal Nehru University.)