The modern part of Hanoi was struck by Bubonic Plague in 1903 because the large sewers placed in the city became a breeding ground for rats in large no.’s. As these sewers served as a good transport system, the rats began to enter the well-cared-for homes of the French through the sewage pipes.
1. In order to get rid of this problem, a rat hunt was initiated wherein the French hired Vietnamese workers and paid them for each rat they caught. Rats began to be caught in thousands but there seemed no end to it.
2. The Vietnamese cleverly used this opportunity and understood the benefit of collective bargaining. They found innovative ways to profit from the situation.
3. A bounty was paid when a tail was shown as a proof that a rat had been killed. Taking advantage of this situation, those who did the dirty work of entering the sewers got an opportunity to negotiate for a higher bounty. The rat catchers often took to just clipping off the tails and releasing the rats, so that the process could be repeated over and over again. Some people also began raising rats to earn a bounty.
4. None of these attempts were successful in preventing the spread of Plague as the French were forced to scrap the bounty programme.
5. The threat posed by the rats marked the limits of French power and the response of the rat-catchers show the small ways in which colonialism was fought in the day to day life.
NOTE – The modern part of Vietnam, occupied by the French, was designed in accordance with the latest styles and ideas of architecture and modern engineering skills. However, the native quarter did not enjoy such modern facilities. Extremely contradictory to the intentions of the makers, the refuse from the old part of the city directly flowed towards the modern part and was the root cause of the spread of Plague in Hanoi.
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