1. That it is almost invariably from among the submerged tenth, with whom we propose to deal that these fearful plagues usually have their origin. Pestilence may indeed be said to take up its abode among them. Destitution is as it were the egg from which pestilence is hatched. There are brooding seasons when it may for a time disappear from sight. But it is there all the same and we know it. If we are to eradicate the evil, we must deal effectually with its cause. And this is the special object of General Booth’s scheme.
True, it may be possible to keep this deadly enemy at bay by multiplying our hospital fortresses and putting into the field medical legions armed with the latest discoveries of science. But the requisite paraphernalia is too expensive for a country like India; and who does not know that well-fed bodies, and healthy homes are better safeguards against disease than all the most costly medicines that could be provided by the British pharmacopoeia? If therefore we are able to deal radically with destitution we shall at the same time strike an effective blow at the pestilences which are at present such a scourge to India.
2. Again I would like to remind my readers of another fact, and in this aspect of the question, all classes of the community are bound to be interested. If pestilence begins its deadly work among the destitute, it can never be reckoned on to stop there. Indeed pestilence may be regarded as Nature’s revenge on society for the neglect of the poor. Once the cholera fiend has broken loose, it is impossible to tell whom he is going to select for his victims. The rich, the fair, the learned, the young, the strong, are often the first objects of his attention. He manifests a reckless disregard of social position. The distinctions of caste and rank, of beauty or learning, are not for him. And even as I write he may be preparing his invisible hordes of bacilli for fresh invasions, more terrible than those that have ever swept down from the mountains of Afghanistan. While we are spending millions upon strengthening our North-Western Frontiers against a foe who may never exist, save in our imagination, can we dare to neglect the more terrible enemy who defies all Boundary Commissions, who overleaps the strongest fortresses, and who laughs to scorn the largest cannon that ever capped our walls?
3. Finally there is one very sad shade in this part of our picture of darkest India. If on the one hand pestilence may be said to somewhat thin the ranks of the destitute by decreasing the number of mouths requiring to be fed, it must be remembered on the other hand that it continually recruits them both by sweeping away so many of the breadwinners, and by frequently paralysing many of those who are left, and preventing them from earning what they otherwise might. How often do we hear of even public institutions having to be closed, and of thousands being thrown out of work by the panic which ensues at such times.