The discovery of priceless gems, gold and jewelry from Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvanathapuram, Kerala invited our attention to other areas of interest of the royalty in the princely State of Travancore
The Travancore State Manual published in 1940 stated thus: …”With a view to protect her subjects from the outbreak of smallpox which was frequent in those days, Her Highness sanctioned the establishment of a Smallpox Vaccination Section in 988 (AD 1813)”.…. Her Highness was Rani Gouri Laxmi Bai, the then reigning queen of the princely State of Travancore. According to Professor Amathya Sen, Kerala’s (Travancore is in Kerala) exceptional record of progress goes back in history and includes, among other things,the policy of enlightenment and diffusion of education clearly articulated by this queen.
Travancore was then the extreme southwest State of India. As people showed signs of fear against vaccination, the queen set herself an example by getting all the members of the Royal Household vaccinated first, to reassure her subjects. The only other similar example is that of US President Thomas Jefferson, who got 18 members of his family vaccinated to reassure his people.
In 1864, the Smallpox Vaccination Section in Travancore was converted into a Division in the Medical Department.A Royal Proclamation, issued in 1879, made vaccination compulsory for all “Government servants, pupils in schools, vakils, persons seeking help from hospitals, inmates of jails and persons dependent on State Charities”.
Based on newspaper reports, William Tebb, well-known anti- vaccinationist, concluded that in many parts of India, there were revolts against compulsory vaccination. Commissioners (the highest authority of the government in any district) reported that nearly in every village, there were families who persistently refused vaccination and hid their offsprings to escape the vaccinators.The Madras Mail of July 2nd 1890 stated that vaccination was very unpopular with many classes.
The Allahabad Pioneer (September 23, 1891) noted that parents washed out the vaccine virus immediately after vaccination… “the natives are in the habit of rubbing chalk, chunam or flour with a view , if possible, of preventing the vesicles rising on their children’s arms”. This may be true; during the early fifties, I have heard grandparents offering similar advice to their young ones. Occasionally, they asked them to run away, when the vaccinators visited the village
According to Tebb, the editor of The Allahabad Pioneer Mail (6th October 1891) observed that if anti-vaccinationists could be counted in their thousands in England, it was small wonder that they could be counted in their millions in India. Strangely, Tebb who meticulously quoted all the anti-vaccination titbits from India, did not refer to the enthusiastic and encouraging response to vaccination by a native queen.