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Odisha Day Celebrations: Legacy of Founders of the State Against Epidemics Should Inspire People to defeat Corona

By Satya Narayana Sahu | PUBLISHED: 01, Apr 2020, 17:28 pm IST | UPDATED: 07, Apr 2020, 18:53 pm IST

Odisha Day Celebrations: Legacy of Founders of the State Against Epidemics Should Inspire People to defeat Corona

1st April is celebrated as Odisha Day to commemorate the formation of Odisha as a separate Province on the basis of language in 1936. It was the first State in India which came into existence because of its separate linguistic identity and it set a trend for linguistic reorganization of States in India after we attained independence.

Today on 1st April 2020, celebrations of 85th Odisha day are generating no joy and usual celebratory spirit when COVID`-19 global pandemic is causing havoc and lock down and shut down of almost all activities have paralyzed life across India. The somber mood across the country and globe and the miserable conditions of migrant labour most of whom are part of the extraordinary exodus from their places of work to their homes located thousands kilometers away further lowers the spirit of Odias to celebrate Utkal Divas. However, Utkal Divas reminds us of the struggle of Odias and their leadership not only to create a separate State of Odisha but to wage war against many disasters and epidemics to save precious human lives and spread scientific temper for explaining the real reason behind numerous scourges such as cholera, smallpox and plague.

Utkal Gaurab Madhusudan Das and His Struggle Against Epidemics

It is well known that the much revered legendary Utkal Gaurab Madhusudan Das, affectionately acclaimed as Madhubabu, pioneered the struggle to create a separate State of Odisha by establishing Utkal Sammilani in 1903. His ideas and manifold measures for the cause of Odias deeply impacted none other than Mahatma Gandhi who valued his insights, underlined their pan Indian significance and drew parallel between Madhubabu and Leo Tolstoy.


Madhubabu played a historic role and set an example of a role model of a legislator who heroically fought against health disasters and epidemics like cholera and plague by educating people that those were caused by bacteria or viruses and not by the curse of Gods or Goddesses. He raised the issue of alarming spread of cholera in Odisha in the Central Legislative Assembly on 21st February 1923 and sharply asked the British Government as to why no sufficient budgetary provisions were made for improving public health and sanitation in rural areas of Odisha. He made some remarks 13 years before the creation of Odisha and those are worth recalling. He said, ''The question is how much of money spent and the manner in which it is proposed to be spent, already reaches the masses who are in sore need of medical relief and improvement of public health.''Those words assumes significance in the context of global pandemic caused by alarming spread of coronal virus across the world and inadequacy of medical facilities even inhighly developed countries to face the havoc wrought by COVID-19.

He also raised the vital point that details of medical research demonstrating scientific causes behind epidemics remained confined to the metropolises of India and people in large swathes of rural areas were condemned to be victims of superstition associated with the origin and spread of recurring scourges which claimed millions of lives and wiped out population of several villages. He acknowledged by saying that he ''...found `any amount of literature dealing with bacteriological researches, with literature telling us how cholera is produced, what is the nature of the bacillus, how it can be killed, how it travels from village to village, and how it may go round the whole province in almost a few days before you know where it has gone or how it has worked out its havoc or to what extent it has levied its toll on humanity.''But he regretted by saying that ''This was all in the metroplois.....There was the whole panoply of literature, armoury, everything, but then if you go to the village there was the poor man dying in his death bed attacked with cholera. He did not know anything of this bacillus....The poor man in the village did not know the existence of bacillus because the bacillus could not be seen with the naked eye. He was equally ignorant of the benevolent temperament of the civil surgeon in the district town because the civil surgeon never visited the village.''

Madhubabu wanted a Caring Government to Deal with Epidemic

He also charged the British Government and the concerned Minister that there was no man ''....who had cooperated with the people in the villages and of whom the villagers could say- here is the man who has who has been cooperating with us in order to
give us relief against disease and epidemic''.

Then he said, ''The first thing that struck me was to bring the people in touch with the Government to make the people feel that there is a Government which feels for them, which provides for their relief, which is anxious to see that they are cured, that they are protected against the spread of cholera''.

Today when the whole world is paralysed by the spread of corona virus and COVID-19 the legacy of Madhubabu in bringing Government closer to people so that they can feel that the Government is taking measures to save them from this unprecedented health disaster assumes critical significance.

He also informed the Central Legislative Assembly that he went to the people infected by plague and sat on the bed of man who was on his death bad. He did so in spite of the chances of getting infected and in response to the call of duty as a representative of the people who was being paid by the tax payer's money. He said, ''''...If  I am being paid from the taxes paid by these dying men it was my sacred duty to him and to my God and sacred obligation to my office that I should take any amount of risk and at least convince the people that there is a Government that thinks for them, and is prepared to risk any risk for them''.

He also took steps to bring the Kavirajs, the traditional doctors, to the places, where microscopes were available, to show them the bacillus which caused cholera and send them back to the villages to educate people to save themselves from the epidemic.

The role played by Madhubabau in fighting for the establishemnt of Odisha and waging war against epidemics is instructive and educative for the world of twenty first century confronting the global pandemic caused by corona virus.

Another preeminent leader of Odisha Utkalmani Gopabandhu Das who was a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi also left behind a rich track record of fighting against manmade disasters such as famine and pestilences and natural calamities such as floods and cyclones.

Odisha since 2000 has set an exemplary record of governance in dealing with disasters

The State of Odisha created on the basis of language in 1936 is now acclaimed for its high bench of governance in managing disasters and ensuring almost zero human causalities. The credit in this respect goes to Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik whosince 2000 onwards has set an exemplary record. It is cited worldwide. The UN has recognized it and the international press has glowingly reflected on it.

The State of Odisha led the country in declaring corona menace as a disaster on 13th March 2020, a day ahead of the decision taken in this regard by the Union Government. The top leadership of the State also pioneered in using the phrase ''social distancing'' as a preventive measure to counter the spread of corona virus. The Chief Minister in his message on the occasion of the 85th Odisha Day, said, among others, that with the cooperation of the people of the State Odisha has done well in managing disasters and hoped the war against Corona would be won convincingly. The observance of 85th Odisha Day would have meaning and significance only when people and leadership of the State deepen their commitment to the relentless war against corona and defeat it by getting inspired by rich legacy of its founders who successfully fought for establishing separate State for people and waged war against disasters and epidemics for protecting human and health security.

.The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed in the article are in his personal capacity. 
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