Session 3 - Safety, health and social order

Safety, health and social order

Irene Geerts (Open University)  
Safety for whom? Dutch family members of people with a severe mental illness caught between a rock and a hard place, 1960-1990
A mental illness can result in serious threats to the safety of the sufferer, but also to others. Historically, society seems most concerned with the latter. Whenever someone with psychiatric problems commits a violent crime, public opinion cries out for locking up all mental patients. What incarceration means for the safety of those patients - most of whom show no tendency to be violent towards others – has been far less of a consideration. But to relatives caring for a mentally ill loved one, such questions of safety have, then as now, presented harrowing dilemma’s. For instance, when in the 1960s many psychiatric hospitals in The Netherlands were still quite poor or even abusive environments, the decision to have a parent, sibling, partner or child in psychiatric crisis admitted was hard, even if his or her behaviour was damaging to themselves or to other members of the family. Another entanglement shows in the contrast between relatives who in the 1970s, in solidarity with the clients’ movement, pleaded for safer care and better rights for psychiatric patients, and another generation of family activists arguing a decade later that the resulting closing of hospital beds and housing of former patients in the community led to their most vulnerable loved ones end up as homeless targets for criminals. In my paper I discuss safety dilemma’s that family members of severely mentally ill people were confronted with in The Netherlands in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, based on egodocuments that some of them published in a period when they just started to make their voices heard.

Dr. Jan Oosterholt (Open University) 
The Transfer of 19th Century Representations of Unsafety: Dutch Adaptations of Eugène Sue’s Les Mystères de Paris
In the history of 19th century city novels Eugène Sue’s Les Mystères de Paris, published as a serial in 1842-43, is of crucial importance. Through Sue’s novel a large group of readers came into contact with the poor neighbourhoods of the Parisian metropolis. To many of them this world was as exotic as the sphere of life of the native Americans in James Fenimore Coopers’ The Last of the Mohicans (1826), the work by which Sue, according to himself, was inspired. Les Mystères de Paris nowadays tells us probably more about 19th century citizens’ fear of an unknown underworld and of an unsafe city than about the daily life in the slums of that period.

As almost everywhere else in the western world Sue’s example was followed in the Netherlands in the form of translations, adaptations and imitations. Critics even wrote about a ‘Verborgenheden-rage’ (‘Mysteries’-hype). In my lecture I would like to discuss how Sue’s representation of a Parisian underworld was transferred to a Dutch context, for instance in Johan de Vries’ De verborgenheden van Amsterdam (1844, The Mysteries of Amsterdam). How did the literature of the Dutch Sue-followers relate to the debate on criminality, hygiene, prostitution et cetera? Is there an interaction between the literary and non-literary discourse on the safety of 19th century cities? 

Anubhav Pradhan (Indian Institute of Technology, Bhilai) 
Mutinous Ghosts, Malarial Fears. ‘Improving’ the Red Fort in British Delhi
Writing to the General Commanding Officer, 7th (Meerut) Division on 1 March 1910, the Hon’ble H.P. Tollinton, Secretary to the Government of Punjab, forwarded reports of a committee constituted to “enquire into and report on the sanitary condition of the Delhi Fort and its surroundings”. The Committee - comprising the Commissioner, Delhi, the Sanitary Engineer, Punjab, and the Sanitary Officer, 7th Division - observed that while “it has been decided more than once that, for political reasons, it is absolutely necessary that the Fort should be held by British troops”, there has nonetheless been “a very considerable loss of their military efficiency from the ill-health resulting from its insanitariness”. With this view in mind, it consequently suggested a wide range of engineering and civic measures to ‘improve’ the drainage in and around the Fort.
These expansive deliberations on the sanitary conditions of the Fort were one of a series of such investigations which occupied the attention of British authorities throughout their occupation of Delhi. Once the primary seat of the Mughal Emperors, the Qila-i-Mubarak-later Red Fort-had been confiscated and radically refashioned by the conquering British after the Mutiny of 1857. Over the course of the next seven decades, from this moment of systemic militarisation in the early 1860s to the inauguration of New Delhi in the early 1930s, the Fort and its security remained prime priorities for the British administrative machinery in Delhi as it battled the effects of open defecation, sewage discharge, and malarial flood waters on the health and morale of the British troops stationed in the barracks therein. Accordingly, this paper aims to juxtapose these concerns for the health of the garrison with anxieties of an urban, popular rebellion. It will argue that planning to make the Red Fort safer for its British inhabitants may be considered symptomatic of a pathological fear compound as much of malaria and miasma as of Indians’ supposed treachery and bloodlust.

Mario Silvester (Open University) 
Dangers of the working-class neighbourhood (1870-1940). Slums as a hotbed of infectious diseases
During the last decades of the nineteenth and the first decades of the twentieth century, Dutch people's neighbourhoods and their inhabitants were described in literature, memoirs and (journalistic) considerations as a threat to society.  The authors who presented themselves as experts by experience pointed out among other things,  that due to poor hygiene slum areas turned out to be sources of infection from epidemic diseases such as smallpox and, because of the worrying moral level of the inhabitants, as a source of sexually transmitted diseases.

This presentation focuses on two of these authors, namely the teacher August Pieter van Groeningen and the doctor Aletta Jacobs. In his short story Infectious Disease, Van Groeningen paints a picture of the impact of a smallpox epidemic within a working-class family. Jacobs points out in her memoirs that men of the civilian class regularly visited prostitutes in slum areas, which put them at high risk of a venereal disease.

Both authors advocated better living conditions in slums, but Van Groeningen packages his message in an emotional and detailed story. Jacobs, uses informal tone and few details to inform her readers. In doing so, they are in line with the ideals of a group of social reformers from the civilian class who made efforts to improve living conditions in working-class neighbourhoods and to bring residents to a higher moral and intellectual level. That was good for the residents and made society safer.