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Death in India, 1871-1921

Ira Klein
The Journal of Asian Studies
Vol. 32, No. 4 (Aug., 1973), pp. 639-659
DOI: 10.2307/2052814
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2052814
Page Count: 21
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Death in India, 1871-1921
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Abstract

Historians frequently have assumed that India's economic progress was held back in the late nineteenth century by a massive growth in population. India actually had a relatively low rate of population expansion until the 1920's. The birth rate was among the world's largest, but the death rate was extremely high also, and mortality rates increased between 1871 and 1921. Death was class-oriented; poor and lower-caste Indians succumbed in far greater proportions than did prosperous Hindus, Muslims, Parsees or Europeans. The economic, social, and environmental changes associated with modernization appear initially to have facilitated the spread of epidemics and the increase in death rates. Irrigation canals often caused water-logging of the soil and stimulated malaria. Railways, roads, and river embankments disrupted natural water flows and furthered dysentery, cholera, and malaria. Urban crowding and poor city planning helped promote plague, tuberculosis, and other diseases. Since high mortality rates were linked to a considerable extent with economic conditions, slow population growth should be viewed more as a reflection than a cause of India's lack of dramatic economic progress.

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